Sunday, 2 July 2017

I Slay My Father

A few years ago, it was probably a Thursday, my therapist sat me opposite an empty chair, put a cushion in it and said, "Your father is here.  What would you like to say to him?"

The skill of the therapist is in judging the moment, in providing the safe space in which this can take place.  At the moment this happened for me, I'd done at least a year's work, maybe more. 

I'd arrived for that first therapy session desperate - full of shame, tears and self-loathing.  I'd been in that state before in my life, many times.  I'd been to four previous counsellors, come away from them, emptier, stiffening my lip.  But this time, it was for real: an hour a week, hanging on in there, counting down the days till the next session. Perhaps it was because I needed to talk to a man.  Someone intelligent enough to see and courageous enough to challenge my tricks.  Someone who knew about Christianity and its doctrines from the inside.

As with any therapy, it's the quality of the relationship that matters more than the paradigm or techniques.  After a few months, I felt accepted in that therapy space.  I felt there, for the first time in my life, that it is okay to be me. Only then was it safe to tell my father what I thought.  It wouldn't kill me.

And I raged at him.  I raged about his harsh faith, how it trumped everything with the fear of damnation.  About his hitting me for my own good. His lack of protection. His lack of affection. His need to control me.  His sexist attitudes.  His fear of anything that could be construed as sexual expression.  About his rules, his bloody rules about everything.  About his homophobia. Most of all about his dragging me into his beliefs, without allowing any space for real questions, making me say the words, week after week.  About his shaming of me from the pulpit that Sunday Evensong when, like some sort of terrible god, he spoke his discipline from on high to me in front of the whole congregation.  I was six, or seven.  Why was I even there?  The joylessness. The daily fear.  The repression.  The depression. The saying that children's spirits must be broken. The actual saying of that.

So I told him, the him sitting in that chair resurrected somehow, that I hated him.  In fact I screamed and cried it.  And I told him, triumphant through my tears, that it hadn't worked - that my spirit is damaged, but not broken.

And when my therapist spoke, I turned to him and shouted, "I haven't finished yet!"  Even he looked, for once, surprised, taken aback by the force of my anger.

I can't remember all I raged, and I'm glad about that.  I do remember saying that I no longer wanted his internalised voice, my Critical Parent, to rule my life.  It was the expending of the emotion, the pent up (I'll say it again) rage, that finally chased his dread voice from my mind.

At the end of it all, I looked at the chair, and it was empty.  I was exhausted, peaceful.  It was like that moment in Star Wars when, sliced by a light sabre, Darth Vader's cloak crumples to the floor with a sigh, deprived of its puffed up illusion of menace.  Does that even happen as a scene in Star Wars?  I don't know.  Even if it didn't, that is what it was like.

If you are one of my father's many continuing fans, I don't apologise for this blog.  I am his daughter - these are my truths and telling them is necessary for me. They will be different from, and don't diminish, yours.  I know he was loved and admired by many, and maybe, had he not been my father, I could have admired him too.  His courage in the face of disability, his uprightness

Is this my Larkinesque moment, my This Be The Verse

The closest I got to reconciliation with my father was after his death, when I wrote this poem.  As with all true poems, it revealed something to me in the writing - something in it is an act, despite everything, of love, of hope.

In the Pub Garden

That summer’s afternoon, we had returned
grown and growing on.
In the pub garden
we witnessed your gravity fail, and smiled as
you slid earthwards
via two halves of cider and a good lunch.

Propped up unevenly by the fence
you slurred your way into contentment:
rosy, full, mellowing, bardic.
Unencumbered, you succumbed to living,
undignified and glorious,
growing earthy and stained from common grass and soil.

Later on, leaving you, I know that this
is the recollection I will choose to sift
from the swept up heap of you
which has so often cornered me.
I wonder if you saw this softening,
felt it too?


  1. Visceral, compelling, unmissable.

  2. Truly wonderful , courageous description of how good therapy can work .

  3. Fantastic to be able to write it down too. xx

  4. Wow, that was so brace and awesome of you xxx it was very moving as some parts brought childhood memories to me xxx

    I always believe in hope of love ❤️ xxxx

    You are such an inspiration and creative poet / person xxx

  5. Amazing Liz. Therapy. You do play the game. You do analyze the analyzer. Never really giving. Never really allowing. That you have been able to inspires. There's hope.