Katy Byrne Katy Byrne, MFT is a Psychotherapist in Sonoma, editor and animal lover. Her private practice specializes in: life transitions, couples communication, eating issues, moving forward, conflict resolution and the kitchen sink.


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The missing father

Posted on June 19, 2016 by Katy Byrne

Fathers are important. Without a Dad to provide support and validation, a kid is handicapped. Fathers have been indoctrinated to be stone cold or aggressive, like John Wayne or to abandon ship. They’re supposed to be bigger than life like some politicians or movie stars.

Men grow up learning about competition, combat, hunting and penises. They often work long hours outside of the home to provide for their families and prove their worth. But, they haven’t been home enough, emotionally.

If men could listen better to their children and support their strengths with patience and skill, we would have a different world.

For father’s day, let’s just say that mature men don’t need to bully or be passive/aggressive. If they develop wisdom and communication skills –we will have safer homes and happier young people. As Jon Stewart said, “Fatherhood is great because you can ruin someone from scratch.” It’s not an easy job.

I worshiped my dad for years. I clung to him and smiled like a Cheshire cat when he entered a room. Mom used to say that I was neurotic because he wasn’t there for me. I hated her for it, thinking she was the crazy one. Until I got older.

Later, in my 40s, I was learning to speak up and ask for what I wanted in my own therapy. I realized that stuffing my needs was at the bottom of my compulsive eating disorder. So, excitedly, I flew to Seattle to visit my parents, with the intention of asking for what I wanted.

Coming from the airport, I stuttered, “Hey, mom, let’s go shopping and hang out some day, ok?” “Sure,” she smiled. Then, I asked shyly, “Hey Dad, when you go to the coffee shop tomorrow, can I go with you so we can have some time together?” I thought he said yes. The next morning I got up and Dad was gone. I asked mom where he was. She said, “He went to the coffee shop.” I barely uttered, “Without me?”

That’s how it was.

I flew back to San Francisco, bereft, and devoured more food. Then years after, overcoming my eating disorder and understanding myself better, I flew to Seattle again. Emotional hairballs! I will live my life regretting the hurt that came down on that visit. So much needed to be said, but we didn’t have enough skills for an ideal closure.

We cried and said what we felt. But, without ongoing conversation, not much can change in relationships. Our problems, like all families, were systemic. We all had a part in them. I had to grow up to see that we each played a role in the dysfunction. But, about Dad — well, he just wasn’t there.

He was home at night but just didn’t hear me, or show up for me fully. Maybe he was afraid of displeasing mom, making her jealous or maybe just trying to survive?

I see now that I became devoid of an inner male to support me when I needed it. I realize that the lack of emotional connection with him led to a life of trying to be noticed by men and never feeling seen or heard. It’s taken many years to develop an inner man who will advocate for me when I’m hurt or protect me, an inner masculine to stand up and say, “you can do it.”

I don’t blame dad. He did the best he could coming from a family of 12 siblings. He was an intelligent and hardworking man. I loved him. But, it’s important for fathers to learn to communicate respectfully, to validate kids and have compassion for themselves as well. It’s not easy becoming a stable, kind man in a society that thrusts wild, uncaring, brutal characters at us, through media – as heroes.

This old world has too many bullies and not enough ability to resolve conflict.

Couples still struggle to try and talk to each other. Still I want to whisper: “Hey, Dad, my life would have been different if you had walked me to the coffee shop.”

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