I recently watched the movie Drop Dead Fred, an early 90’s movie, that was a key film in my childhood. It’s a hilarious movie, with some gross potty humor, and deeper meaning about believing in yourself, standing up for yourself, and being you even when loved ones don’t see the greatness in you.
Two things I realized about this movie after watching it 20+ years later as an adult: 1. It was made in Minnesota. I don’t know how I didn’t know that, I’m from there, but within the first fifteen minutes I saw locations from my childhood thru college. It made me homesick. 2. This movie, Drop Dead Fred, was very influential on me in terms of learning about boundaries.
In the movie, the mother is terrible and sometimes cruel to her daughter, Lizzie, in a controlling, manipulative way that you see in a series of back and forth flashback comparisons to her adult life. While some of the things that Drop Dead Fred says about the Mega B!tch are mean, throughout the film you begin to see that without him pointing out the awful treatment Lizzie is getting, she would have no one to contrast the emotional abuse. Though his attempts to elevate her self-worth and self-esteem are occasionally mean pranks; by the end of the film Drop Dead Fred has provided enough of a counter to her insecurities that she breaks free from two controlling, one-sided relationships and sets boundaries for herself on how she is willing to be treated in her life.
It was this movie that the first seeds were planted in my mind to hold true to myself, to trust deeply in who I am, and to protect that self-worth from those who would try to control, manipulate, or unconsciously challenge and change me. It is at a young age that I began establishing and believing in boundaries. It is up to each one of us to determine what we are okay with in relationships: romantic, parent, sibling, friendship, coworker. It is imperative that we firmly, yet kindly set the parameters for what we will and will not accept in our lives.
This becomes even more crucial as a parent. As a mom, I’ve had to face very hard, deeply painful confrontations with a father whose emotional intelligence is low and his self-focused-needs are high. My father choses to live in a way that I can tolerate individually, but cannot put my kids around. It’s not worth the risk. He also has a hurtful approach to relationships: holds a grudge, avoids conflict, and is unwilling to do anything he simply doesn’t want to do. I say this as someone who has been working to address our relationship for over ten years, attempted counseling, and had our last argument in 2011 when he decided I have too many rules (not to call after ten p.m., to be sober when visiting my kids, to not bring over friends to my house when we aren’t home, etc.)
Why am I writing about this today? Because I’ve had to make the really difficult decision that on our next visit home to Minnesota, we won’t see him. He hasn’t made an attempt to contact us since the last time we spoke at Thanksgiving 2012, at my aunt’s house, when he arrived at the last minute. No contact before the visit and nothing after. No birthday cards to my kids, postcards to see how they are, emails to wish them happy holidays. It’s one thing for he and I to have a challenging father-daughter relationship; however, not being a grandfather to two marvelous children is an active decision.
It became a question of how much do I have to cost myself emotionally. He is my father; because of him, I am alive, had a great childhood, was well taken care of and close to until I went away to college.
So, at what point am I doing myself more harm than any resulting good?
This year, I made the heartbreaking decision that I cannot work to fix the relationship any longer. It hurts to write this and it’s a grief that may never go away. But, I realized, the hurt it was causing me wasn’t getting me any closer to a semblance of the father I knew as a child. And that my boundaries needed to protect me from that. And I don’t want my kids to feel this hurt.
And, sometimes protecting yourself is really about protecting your children.