I’ve never viewed myself as similar to my dad. He hates his job, but chooses to be there. Doesn’t resolve relationship issues and internalized his hurt, anger, stress, etc. He seems to like going to the doctor. He’s Mediterranean; I’m Caribbean. Wine for him; I’d rather have a beer.
But the more I learn, the more similarities I unearth. Both our tendencies are to retreat emotionally. We’ve both ceded control of similar household responsibilities to our wives. Neither of us knows his father.
I’m trying to reorient that last one. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I think much of my marriage dysfunction stems from my relationship with my dad. What is utterly amazing to me is how I have (unconsciously? subconsciously? comfortable?) replicated the same family system he has had.
My sister was a quadriplegic. She had a diving accident at age 14. Before that she had a rare blood disorder. Lots and lots of hospital time. Surgeries. Attention. She was the impetus for our move to Florida from Massachusetts. Her illnesses, through no fault of hers, defined our family. Because of her great need, my mom became her advocate and caregiver. In fact, they became inseparable. We used to joke about it. They were over bonded. My sister became my mom’s world (maybe there’s a hint in there regarding the source of my focus on performance. Need for attention, anyone?)
Whether he chose it because he felt it was his role or because he felt shut out of the family, my dad threw himself into work. In fact, work has defined him. That’s why retirement has been such a tough decision for him (although it seems to me like a no-brainer). What else has he known since 14?
Anyway, that is my family of origin system. And it is the one I created. My wife and I have one daughter. She’s a miracle. Five years worth of trying, disappointment, and being told it was impossible. (Don’t ever let someone tell you the fun is in the trying. It’s not.)
So my wife has defined herself through motherhood. That’s her primary relationship. Whether I chose this because of passion or because I felt shut out (or maybe a little of both), I threw myself into my ministry. It’s how I defined myself and my relationship with God. It was my first lover.
Now don’t those pictures look similar. Frighteningly so. Like if our lives were printed on transparencies (remember those?) and placed over each other, they would be an almost perfect match. And I don’t want it to carry on to my daughter’s marriage. The cycle is going to stop with me. And one of the roots is my relationship with dad.
I need to give my wife the picture of manhood and strength. Loosening the bond with my mom that formed in the vacuum and strengthen the one with my dad. Then my wife will have the room (if she chooses) to be feminine. The role of woman that God intended. To be my wife first. To achieve balance in our marriage and unburden herself from some of the things she’s felt the need to take on.
Sounds so simple to change a family system. Change one part and the entire thing changes. I’m guessing it will get very hard. There is already push back. It’s uncomfortable to leave what you’ve know (even if it is unhealthy) and let a new normal be defined. Hopefully, when the dust settles, my daughter will get the picture of a marriage that honors God and is structured in the way He intended. One that builds up both spouses. One in which each other’s needs are important and being met. One in which love is natural.
With the freedom and security that come along with health and appropriate roles. Lessons she’s be able to carry on to her own relationship. Not only her relationship with her husband, but also the implications it will have on her relationship with Christ and her understanding the imagery of the marriage between Christ and His church.