Sherry Franklin shares the power of words and how they shaped her views of her father and her “right guy”.
Who here grew up watching “The Simpsons”? Please your raise hand if you did.
Of course everyone has! Now, the episodes might have declined in quality in the last few years, but you cannot deny the genius of the early episodes and how groundbreaking it was when it showed up on our TV screens 24 years ago.
The show’s clever writing was apparent from the very start. The series’ first episode, “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”, had Homer struggling to make ends meet, so he took on a second job as a mall Santa to earn just enough for the holidays. His family doesn’t know this, and when he comes in late for their Christmas party, we were shown this exchange between Patty and Selma (his wife Marge’s sisters, who hate him) and Lisa, his precocious 7-year-old daughter:
Selma: Where is Homer anyway?
Patty: Typical of the big doofus to spoil it all.
Lisa: What, Aunt Patty?
Patty: Oh, nothing dear, I’m just trashing your father.
Lisa: Well, I wish that you wouldn’t. Because aside from the fact that he has the same frailties as all human beings, he’s the only father I have. Therefore, he is my model of manhood, and my estimation of him will govern the prospects of my adult relationships. So I hope you bear in mind that any knock at him is a knock at me, and I am far too young to protect myself against such onslaughts. (emphasis mine).
My dad, just like Homer Simpson, is somebody who might not be the most ideal candidate for fatherhood. He is lazy, loud, and prone to outbursts when he gets his hands on a few bottle of beers. He is not very ambitious and he is perfectly content with his office clerk job. Like the Simpsons, we had our share of days where we just got by with very little.
This, naturally, caused some strain on my parents’ relationship. Fights were common and when they happened it was always about how dad was “not doing enough for the family” and my mom complaining how she was always “picking up his slack”. As the eldest in a brood of four, I became my mom’s sounding board whenever something like that occurred. It was a heavy load for anyone to carry, but moreso if you were only 11-12 and dealing with personal issues of your own.
I also had to deal with gossip from people around us: how dad was a lousy father and husband and how mom was better off marrying another man.
Don’t get me wrong; I know he wasn’t entirely blameless for the whole thing. I hated him whenever he did those things. I hated him that he seemed to have not a care in the world. I saw him the way they saw him but hearing them lambast him like he was basically garbage broke my heart. Even when I was so angry at dad, their words felt like daggers digging into my ears. He was, after all, still my father, my Superman, my very first concept of a hero.
When it was my turn to seek the comfort of my friends, I was very careful with how I portrayed my father to them. I called him “childish” and “happy-go-lucky” instead of branding him “lazy” and “irresponsible”. I felt like he needed that little sheet of protection, as flimsy as it was, to shield off all the mean and hurtful words that were coming his way. Right then and there I took on the role of Supergirl for him.
I’m now in my 20s. Did Lisa Simpson’s statement on fathers and how our image of them shapes how we view manhood and predicts our romantic prospects in adulthood did actually come true?
It did impact me more than I would care to admit. For awhile I have denied that those painful childhood memories affected me in any way, but I just can’t bear to lie anymore. Lisa was right. My choice in romantic partners is proof of it.
I find myself gravitating towards men who seem to have it all: handsome achievers, smart go-getters, guys who seem to have it together. Ambition is a big turn on for me. Nothing wrong with that, but really it stems from so many of my fears: fear of poverty, fear of helplessness and a fear of failure. It seems my experiences as a kid did shape me into who I am today.
Notice a pattern here? Fear. I am constantly plagued by fear and the idea that my life would turn out like my parents’. It’s an awful way to approach relationships and I feel like that that’s going to stay with me for a long time. I don’t blame this on the guys I’ve dated. These men, these special men; they were nothing like my dad. Some of them have been really, really good to me while others were just…there. They were there when I needed comfort and validation. They were there to give me pleasure and companionship. I relished the attention but I take a step back whenever things get too serious. At 29, I’ve never had a relationship that lasted more than a year. I do not blame these on them; I take full responsibility for all of it. Years of having a warped view of manhood and relationships created these black holes in my head. Fear and anxiety consumes me too much to even entertain the idea of getting into a long-term relationship. I guess I’m not yet emotionally prepared for it.
To all the parents, heck, to all adults who are reading this, please know this: your behavior around children impacts them more than you know.
I have long forgiven my parents for putting me through all of that. They’re finally divorced and are now actually really good friends.
Now that I am older, I’ve come to realize that they are human beings who make mistakes. I have come to terms with their shortcomings towards me and my siblings.
We are all much older now and are living separate lives from each other. I do make the effort to see them and just be there for them when they need it.
We’re all still healing to this day, I think. It’ll take some time but I’ll know we’ll eventually find peace.
You can read more of Sherry Franklin’s thoughts and musings on her blog, The Fab Facade.
—Photo Ctd 2005/Flickr
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