Am I my father’s daughter?

October 15, 2012

I had the most extraordinary epiphany today at my father’s 89th birthday celebration. We were sitting around the table eating an Indonesian fruit compote and other goodies—a lively gathering of family and friends, all of us laughing, reminiscing, talking all at once in Dutch, Indonesian, and English. Suddenly, out of the blue I heard a woman I hardly know, a close friend of my youngest sister (my dad’s favorite), call MY father “Dad.” Of all the nerve! She was sitting close to him, reading him a birthday card, and they were yukking it up like they were old pals—like they were father and daughter!

I felt so betrayed! Each time she called him “Dad,” an irrational,  uncontrollable pain shot through my heart and solar plexus. I realized it was the exact same raw, painful sensation I used to feel in my gut upon suspecting or discovering a boyfriend or husband had betrayed me in some way. Like someone sticking a knife in my stomach.

It was as if my psyche went back in time to when my dysfunctional relationship with men first began—to the core of the second-class-citizen relationship I have with my father. Growing up, I was afraid of him. Once, some years ago, he actually held me, cried, and apologized for being so hard on me.

But my dad’s religious fanaticism creates a gap between us. And now here was this strange woman from my sister’s church, who had evidently visited my dad many times before, kissing up to him and calling him “Dad,” every chance she got. And he was eating it up! All my father-daughter-man-woman neurosis was staring me in the face. I sat there paralyzed. There was nothing I could do but wait for that old familiar pain that has haunted me all my life to subside.

To ease the pain and appear normal, I reached for a chocolate cookie. I ate several, till the pain subsided. Then I regained my composure, chatted a bit about yoga with the Indonesian ladies, and even signed over a gift copy of one of my yoga books.

As I said my goodbyes, I thanked my father’s friends for their presents and for celebrating his life. I made nice with the woman who had the nerve to call my dad “Dad,” pondering her motives as I looked her in the eye. Then I grabbed my backpack, stepped outside into the sunlight and fresh air, and walked home to my tribe.

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