When I was asked to write this post, I will be radically honest in that my first reaction was a heart pounding, heavy pit in my stomach, nauseous-type feeling in my body.
The topic of male role models is a very tender and sore subject for me, so the idea of writing a vulnerable and honest piece around it scared the shit out of me.
Yet there was this other part, the quieter part, the part that knows, that felt this would be a great opportunity. This part is connected to the deep desire I have to heal around my initial relationship with male role models … and that would only happen through the decision not to hide.
There is power in sharing your story, especially when it has lived in the shadows for a while.
It’s been 26 years since I lost my primary male role model. My dad committed suicide when I was 9 years old. Although this was tragic and traumatizing in and of itself, he was gone way before then when it came to our household and his role in my life. I wonder which was the most damaging.
Unfortunately my dad had some really powerful demons that did not allow him to be fully present to himself, let alone to his family. He was an alcoholic, had gambling problems, he cheated on my mom, was very unstable financially and would disappear on multiple occasions. Looking back as an adult I see that he was a tortured soul, an artist frustrated because of his inability to express and create in the world.
It’s taken me all 26 of those years after his death to process through what his absence did or did not mean for me.
Not having that strong male role model in my life caused a lot of angst and heartache. Feels like an understatement to even write that … words could never even come close to expressing that deep rooted pain. It still brings me to tears from time to time. I feel cheated out of being daddy’s little girl.
In addition to my dad disappearing, my uncle did as well. He was the person that filled that role of male role model, because of my dad’s absence. I loved my uncle so much. When I was 12 he moved to Italy with his wife for a job and we never saw him since. I received one card from him shortly after his relocation, but radio silence from him after that. I don’t know if I have fully mourned or processed that loss as of yet as he was my favorite uncle, as well as my godfather when I was baptised as a baby.
I was petrified of having relationships with men, platonic or otherwise but most definitely romantically, because of that fear that they would disappear and leave me broken hearted and alone. After all I had not one but TWO important men to me, whom I loved dearly, vanish.
That core feeling of ‘I will never be loved by a man’ permeated all areas of my life.
It showed up as:
- Not having straight male friends until I was in college
- My first kiss happening around 19 from a girl friend who took pity on me and wanted to show me how it’s done
- Losing my virginity at 20 with a super close gay male friend
- Not having my first long term relationship until I was 26
- Confusing love for sex countless times
- Never fully trusting the men I was with to take care of me or stay by my side
The list could go on and on and on.
I resented, and at times even hated, men as a direct result of that mistrust. I did not feel safe, and as much as I tried to open up, there was still a part of me that held back, or kept my distance.
I have finally come to terms with the fact that the pain and automatic reaction from that trauma may never go away. As odd as it may seem to find freedom in that conclusion, that is exactly what it has provided for me.
I can choose to be a victim to the reality that I didn’t have my dad to teach me about love between a man and a woman or I can learn it on my own. I chose the latter.
Although I did want to talk primarily about the lack of a male role model (my dad) and its negative effects on myself and my romantic relationships, I also wanted to highlight my appreciation for the ones that did come into my life after that.
These men showed up at various stages, even as recent as three years ago, providing uniquely different gifts and pearls of wisdom.
I know for a fact that I would not be where I am today without them. I would not be as trusting or open hearted or willing to love and let love in if it was not for these men.
They say that ‘the teacher will appear when the student is ready’ and I can attest to the truth of that statement every single time one of these men appeared, or reappeared, in my life.
I feel called to do a sort of roll call and thank these men for helping me to heal, and inspiring love, when all I saw was misery and all I felt was sadness and pain.
So here goes … my love fest for the male role models that WERE present and instrumental in my life:
Vanik – This man was the uncle I wished I had. He went to boarding school with my mom for nearly 10 years and was like a brother to her. He stepped in and supported my mom, my brother and myself however he could after my dad passed. He has a heart of gold and is one of the most generous souls I know. He also inspired me in that he owned his own business for as long as I knew him, a travel agency, which allowed him to travel all around the world. He stoked the gypsy fire in my heart for sure.
Richard – This man wore so many hats over the years when it came to me and my family: father figure, uncle, cousin, friend, travel partner, concert chaperone, He was present in my family from the time I was 11 or 12. Having him be such a constant in my life, over 20 years now, has healed a lot in terms of my fear of abandonment. He loved me for exactly who I was and always sang my praises. Words cannot express how much I love this man!
Julio – This man was like my best friend for many, many years. He taught me what true intimacy and vulnerability looked like, as well as the importance of speaking your truth. We definitely got into heated arguments over the years, but it was always from a place of love and respect and care. He pushed me to address my anger and was the first person to have me take a look at the damage from my dad and begin to heal it. He got me to see that not all men are like my dad and what unconditional love looks like.
Aaron – This man I call my ‘twin brother from another mother.’ Meeting him affirmed that there are men out there who truly operate from the heart and stand for compassion, love, honesty and community. I got to practice speaking my truth without expectation and experiencing unconditional love in an even deeper way. I saw in him the type of man I would want to be with one day and because of that it confirmed for me that they existed in the world.
Martin – This man I call my ‘adopted dad.’ Can you tell I have a habit of adopting family members? He is the husband of a woman I met in coaching school and called my ‘adopted mom.’ I already felt blessed to have met his wife Sheryl in that we shared a deep love and connection, so meeting Martin was a definite surprise bonus! Watching him with Sheryl and how he absolutely loves and adores her regained my hope in love. I began to believe that it was possible again and that the right man will be worth the wait. Martin affirmed that to me not just with his actions but with his words as well – he reminded me of what is possible and what I deserve regularly.
Considering I suffered such loss early on in life, I have five times as much gained over the years. It definitely took a while for me to be able to look back, with that oh so coveted 20/20 hindsight, and appreciate what I didn’t have as much as what I did end up having. Who I am now is influenced just as much by the pleaure as the pain.
I was mentioning recently having to write this article to one of my first female role models aside from my mom. She has taught me so much about being a powerful, honest, committed and successful woman. Having her in my life fulfilled me in ways I never could have foreseen because she helped me to round out who I am as a woman.
When I talked about not having my dad around, yet having an abundance of awesome men in my life, she said the most poignant thing to me that in this moment brings me to tears. “It’s as if your dad had to leave in order to make room for the rest of these men to come into your life.”
As much as I mourn the absence of my father, I cannot imagine my life without all of these incredible guys. I have grown so much as a woman. Who knows the trajectory my life would have taken had my dad stayed around. I sometimes shudder at the thought of who I would have become if that negativity and drama and addiction had continued to swirl around me.
The person I am now is peaceful, trusting, knows her value, is open to receiving love, can count on others’ commitments, takes people at their word, radiates joy and love, craves touch both in giving and receiving.
I almost cannot recognize the person I was when I was in high school and college. That girl was shut down, a shell of the woman she was capable of being. She was hesitant and scared and gave out of a desire to be needed.
My multitude of male role models have taught me to be so much more open and unconditional and generous with my love. I give of my heart and soul and mind and body with full trust and without expectations of anything in return.
These days, due to the influence of those men over the years, I feel blessed beyond belief. It’s such a confirmation of the fact that the Universe/God/Spirit (insert preferred name here), really does care for and gives us what we need to make us the best person we can be in this world. I have come a long way and there is more to come.
Having had to deal with death in that way being so young has taught me to really be present. Let’s face it: I don’t know if you are going to be around. I can’t predict how long we have together. Today may just be the only day any of us has.
When I opened up to the idea of impermanence from a possibilities place, and not the doom and gloom place I had been for years, my whole world expanded.
Where I am now, as a result of the men that were not the most ideal of male role models, as well as the plentitude of ones that were, is head over heels in love: with my life, with my friends, with my work in the world, and with an amazing man that I am proud to call ‘my man.’
I trip out from time to time that this is my life yet it feels good and right and amazing.
I have the men, as much as the women, in my life to thank … so thank you from the bottom of my heart.
By Natalie Vartanian | NatalieTheCoach.com