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Early loss of father distorts daughter's perspective

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Early loss of father distorts daughter's perspective

Anonymous: I am female and in my 20s and lost my dad unexpectedly seven years ago. He was always my world, the most loving, giving father, husband and man I've ever met.

Looking through some old correspondence after he passed, I discovered my perfect father was a bit of a "player" before he met my mother. Nothing terribly serious or disturbing. I was actually somewhat reassured that men could be a little wild and still turn out as amazing as my dad.

But now as I date, I wonder, how do I know? How do I tell someone who is acting with youthful indiscretion from someone bad?

And side question: They say women marry men like their fathers, but I'm afraid I'll be an old maid before I find someone half as great.

Carolyn: Old maid! If your father helped instill in a daughter this dim view of unmarried women, then "perfect father" needs revising.

Your situation appears complicated at first glance, involving grief, players, judgment, trust, measuring up . . . when in fact only a couple of things really matter here.

You lost your dad when you were still young enough to worship him, before that "My parents are ordinary people!" epiphany that serves so many children so well.

This isn't just sad. Seeing your dad as full and human helps you see yourself the same way — which then allows more complete understanding of others.

But it's not an insurmountable obstacle. It's just a cue for you to keep in mind that you're highly motivated to see what you want to see in people, as opposed to what's really there.

To mitigate those expectations, stop looking at the men you meet for X or Y or Z, and pay attention instead to what's going on inside you, especially when there's no man in the picture at all.

What makes you happy, what bothers you, what scares you, what would you change about yourself, and why? And, maybe most important, what would you do if life were upended — if a happiness source were cut off, if an annoyance became permanent, if your nightmare came true, if the thing you wanted to change were immutable?

These will tell you, over time and often subtly, what kind of life makes sense for you.

While it seems counterintuitive, the best relationship decision you can make is to steer yourself, alone, toward the kind of life that makes sense, based on the way you feel. A life that feels right is the perfect backdrop for deciding whether the people in that life feel right to you, too — or not.

Marrying someone like or unlike Dad, or avoiding "players," or seeking "the one," is what people do when they don't really know themselves; they rely on templates.

Inviting anyone to play a significant role in your life is a choice between remaining on your own, or deciding that you enjoy each other's company — reliably so — and you regard each other's needs as equal to your own. You'll probably find a bunch of people who clear the fairly low bar of pleasant company. But people either have your back and you have theirs ungrudgingly, or you keep looking. It really can be as simple as that.

Early loss of father distorts daughter's perspective 09/29/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 5:30am]

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