On this Father’s Day, those of us who have lost our fathers or are estranged from them often feel an overwhelming sense of grief, especially when we see photos of young dads with their new babes in body slings, middle aged dads sharing proud moments with older children, and older dads who have made the transition to loving grandfathers. We look at these images and our hearts pulse with longing for that deep connection with someone who has been absent from our lives. When our fathers die early, disappear because of separation or divorce, or become lost to us through addiction, the usually dormant father-loss placeholder in our lives can become a pulsing wound as everyone around us celebrates.
Tapping provides a safe and private way to honour the emotions we feel because of a broken link with our fathers. Many of us have found that telling our personal stories as we tap helps to create the space for a deeper acceptance of our personal relationships with our fathers, and, eventually, a deeper peace. My personal father-loss tapping story, one I have been telling myself since I learned to tap in 2006, follows a similar pattern on or around Father’s Day each year. I begin with where I am in the moment, with the places in my body where I feel my grief. Usually, when I feel a sense of father loss building in my chest, I begin by tapping through the points on my face and body as I tell my simple physical/emotional truth.
“This ache in my chest. This ‘I miss you, Dad’ ache in my chest. This longing for you. This sadness that you’re gone. This ache. This ache in my chest. This heartache for you, Dad. This sudden, strong father-loss ache.”
Often as I tap on the sensations of father-loss in my body, I feel a sense of release and weep. I am always grateful for my tears, since the inability to express emotion suggests that we may be trapped in the frozen aspect of our Fight, Flight, or Freeze response to the trauma of losing a parent. When we can’t feel an emotion, it is always helpful to tap on “this numbness,” adding when we feel ready, “I wonder what it is I’m not ready to feel,” and, “I wonder if I need help to go through this,” and, “I wonder how I can feel safe as I go through this.” Tapping with a sense of curiosity about our emotional pain and physical responses to trauma often opens us to wisdom regarding what we might do to better care for ourselves as we process the emotions that are coming up for us.
After any numbness is resolved, tapping allows us to inch toward feeling the grief and even the rage of father-loss. Clients are often surprised by their rage, and when they are, I assure them rage is an understandable response to parental loss in our society. In a patriarchal culture such as ours, rage can be considerable since a strong positive father connection fosters a sense of belonging and even privilege. There is a down side to patriarchal privilege, of course, but given the nature of its connection to power, those who suffer father loss may also suffer from feelings of abandonment when considering how to move ahead in life. Feelings of abandonment and unmet needs are often at the root of our rage.
In my personal experience with father loss, I had to work through my sense of abandonment and rage before I got in touch with the grief and sorrow beneath these emotions. Once I honoured these more challenging emotions with several tapping sessions focusing on my feelings of abandonment, I could then tune into my deeper, more tender emotions. The following reminder phrases hint at the evolution of my father-loss story.
“I miss you, Dad. I used to feel so mad at you, but now I wish we’d known one another better. We lost each other when we were both so young. I could have learned a lot from you. I miss you, Dad. I wish I had a body memory of snuggling with you in the hammock in the back yard. I miss you, Dad. Even though I sometimes feel your presence all around me, I’d like to see your face as you grow older, watch you laugh, hear your voice. I miss you, Dad.”
Many people who are used to blocking father-loss emotions are repulsed by the idea of feeling their full measure of emotional turmoil. I understand this. It took me decades to come to terms with the complex legacy of a father who disappeared when I was two and who killed himself before I turned forty. Over time I have learned the most beneficial consequences of a personal tapping practice are its evolutionary qualities. Tapping on the same issue over time helps us to be alive to the subtle nuances of our current emotional states and to feel joy over how we have grown in relation to our personal emotional wounds. When we use it faithfully, tapping supports our desire to be present to our deepest hurts, strengths, and joys. Doing this kind of deep personal work also supports our desire to be more sensitive and responsive in our work with others.
No one can know how losing a father affects someone else, and so articulating our feelings – even when that articulation is nothing more than “I don’t know what I feel!” – is vital to the healing process. We heal because tapping to honour our in-the-moment feelings helps us to reclaim energies spent in the effort to avoid feeling, thus adding to our general zest for living. Finishing a tapping session by honouring who we are in spite of our father loss is also emotionally validating. Tapping something like
“I miss you, Dad, especially at this time of year, and I am fine on my own.” This belief may not resonate at the beginning of our father-loss journey, but once we look at our lives through a lens that magnifyies our strengths and talents, we discover that we have developed remarkable skills because our fathers weren’t around. One of my most insightful and comforting discoveries during a father-loss tapping session involved naming all the mentors I discovered because my father was absent. I often phrase my gratitude for these remarkable men like this: “Even though you weren’t around, Dad, life guided me to all these wonderful spiritual fathers who showed up just when I needed them most.”
In the early days of my father-loss healing, I often devoted a tapping session to a a specific teacher, an iconic father figure, or a relative who performed some small act of kindness because he sensed the void my father left. Honouring the uncle who taught me to swim, the teacher who validated my intelligence, and the positive father image created by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird freed me to concentrate on the father gifts in my life rather than the father losses.
It may take a while to process the emotions we feel at this time of year, but the rewards for doing so are long lasting. I have found that my personal father-loss journey has made me appreciative of the way so many younger dads are taking an active role in their children’s lives. Since attitudes to parenting are both cultural and generational, seeing these active, loving fathers gives me a strong sense of positive human and cultural evolution.
Today, we are actively transforming the isolating, “Father Knows Best” attitude disseminated by TV in the fifties, sixties, and seventies into something that might be described as “Father wants to get to know both his children and himself and be real and present in all his relationships.” While it may not make for a great sit-com title, this new attitude to parenting can help us to become more fully human in our relationships with our fathers, even those of us who know first hand the anguish of personal father loss.
Until next week