Monday, 8 May 2006

My father

My father called me a few days ago. When I put down the phone I felt yet again the resentment, sadness and frustration which so often marks our conversations.

It’s as though there is a constraint between my father and myself, something which prevents me from relaxing and simply being myself when I speak to him. I feel awkward, I feel he is gauche, and in the end we aren’t ourselves, we don’t manage to bridge the gap.

I talk reluctantly, I pepper my sentences with reassuring words. From “I’m very well” to “don’t worry”.

I have the feeling that our relationship is a big failure. Catastrophic even. Because we do love each other but can’t manage to express it naturally.

My father and I, we don’t hug each other, we don’t kiss, we keep our distance. We will always treat each other like respectful strangers. All the same we laugh together, we speak. But not really about himself, nor about myself. Or very little. We reveal very little to each other…

He told me once that I was like him, that, like he, I don’t express my feelings much. It’s true, I know that well, but I can never change this state of affairs with him.

Besides, it probably won’t happen, it won’t ever happen. I believe it’s too late.

These stiff and awkward encounters, they are those of a general and a soldier, who, when there isn’t a war, are embarrassed and simply don’t know how to speak to each other.

My combativeness, my values, I got those from my father. All my childhood was nurtured by his disgusted speeches about the place given to woman in Senegalese society, by the scorn he felt for those who don’t try, to those who don’t fight, for those who let themselves be victims. And also by the necessity for truth, justice and honesty above all, by the contempt for all cheating or all lying, which he professed non-stop.

My father wanted us to study well, my sister and me. He wanted us to be independent, self-sufficient. He kept us well away from the male chauvinist Senegalese circles. He repeatedly told us we could do as well as men. He wanted us to become strong women, proud women.

And why wasn’t he able to prevent our circumcision? Did he want to arm us so that we could defend ourselves the next time we were confronted by a threat, of whatever sort.

Basically did our circumcision have an influence on the way he educated us?

I don’t know, but I am certain that without him I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Without him, I wouldn’t have read, observed, listened, thought, and considered the world the way I do today, totally free.

Without him, I wouldn't have aspired to excellence, the only possibility of claiming respect legitimately. Without him, I wouldn't have set the bar so high, I wouldn't have been so demanding of myself. Without him, I wouldn’t have choked back my tears, I wouldn’t have gritted my teeth. Without him, I wouldn’t have built my armour. Without him I wouldn’t have become a warrior.

I am sure that, had I not doubted his love for me so much all these years, if I hadn’t so violently wanted him to love me, I wouldn’t have been able to keep to the road that I am following so far. I wouldn’t have become a soldier of whom he could be proud.

Today I feel a mixture of gratitude and resentment for what was imposed on me out of love for him.

I realise little by little the price I have paid. I realise that I have sacrificed intimacy, confidence, simple love. I have hidden my vulnerability from him for so long that I can’t reverse it.

I believe I have spent too long in my armour. It has rusted. And now, in front of my father all I can do is a military salute …

[Original in French]

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  1. What you have written is hard, your suffering is obvious, but at the same time what I read is that you love him…. And he loves you also and even if you don’t find the words, the gestures, the love is there.

  2. And if you wrote to him?... Mind you, I say that, and I can't manage to do it with mine ...

  3. You need time, so that the armour can become a flexible framework. It seems to me that the giving, and taking of these gifts isn’t finished, gifts which have always several edges. Where there’s life there’s work

  4. Hello to the three of you!

    Mamzelle Maupin, yes, there is love. But this absence of words, gestures, stops any possibly intimacy between us.

    Geralda, that’s a good idea. Once I wrote him a poem to tell him I love him. He left a message on my answer phone, I have never heard him so moved. It was another time he said that we are similar as far as feelings are concerned. My mother said later that he was very happy with his poem. But you see, the message, I don’t know why but I erased it. It made me uncomfortable … I’ll bear the idea in mind all the same. One day I’ll perhaps write to him again.

    Anita, I hope one day the armour will lose its rigidity without my feeling bad. A lovely framework which supports rather than makes a statue, that would indeed be a great thing :)

  5. I am very moved by your words …
    Things are a bit stiff with my father, sometimes, even if it’s very different: we play cat and mouse. Sometimes I force myself to give him a hug, but I move away very quickly, then, without looking at him, I’m very embarrassed...

    As anita says, where there’s life there’s work.

  6. How hard it is on the path we try to find .... especially yours. But between the lines I see so many beautiful things. You are strong, women who give are strong.

  7. Hello Mlle Crapaud! In writing the post, I realised there was some work, but perhaps I could make my salute more flexible. I say to myself that we probably aren’t going to become very close, but we can get a little closer all the same.

    Hi Elene.B! Many thanks for your words. They go straight to my heart. Don’t worry, I won’t go very far away :)

  8. It’s very moving: I think I’m reading about the relationship I had with my father. If there were only one word to characterise our relationship, it would be reserve. The only time I said “I love you” to him was two years ago on his death bed. I don’t regret anything of this silence of emotion during all those years, because things couldn’t have been any other way. He will always be my “Papa”, with all the love that this word carries.
    Don’t wait until the last minute girls!

  9. I’m hugging you as hard as I can!

  10. Thank you Lalita!
    Welcome Nounsse. You have found exactly the right word: reserve. Indeed that’s what it is between my father and me.
    Today three people told me to write a letter to him. And Geralda. That has made me consider. I think I am going to do that, the idea of living in silence on both sides all our lives, even if you love each other, well it makes me want to cry this evening. So a letter, a bridge, a “this is what I am dear father” without the difficulty of confrontation, that tempts me more and more …

  11. Hiii ! If you write to yours, I’m going to have to write to mine, or if not I’ll be taken for a chicken …. ;-)

  12. Life is long, relationships aren’t fixed for eternity.

    Affection, paternal love, or a child’s love doesn’t consist solely of words and hugs.

    You are in total internal upheaval, everything is crowding about you in the long wait you see, you are questioning your mother’s impression of you and at once you are also think of the place of your father.

    If you are thinking of taking courage with him, what a wonderful result!

    Be brave, hold on and don’t forget to fill your time with pleasant thoughts and reasons for smiling.

  13. Thank you for your welcome Papillon :-)
    The letter is an excellent idea. With my mother it was by writing that I was able to accept and settle numerous conflicts. It was sometimes very violent (no injuries, but sometimes very hard words), but these exchanges were very beneficial to us, even saving. What’s more I’m someone who says very little and I lose my way in an argument.

    So writing is a great means of taking your time over expressing your feelings with chosen words.

  14. Right, it’s decided: I’m going to write a letter to my parents.

    Lili, I believe at the moment I am in mourning for certain hopes regarding my relationship with my parents. I start off with “it’s my own life” and I have difficulty managing my need not to be their little girl (who needs permission) while staying in touch with them. What hurts me, you see, is that in reality my relationship with my father or my mother will never be understanding or close. For that I am in mourning. On the other hand, our contact can no doubt be less “awkward” than they are at the moment. And I would like to move towards that, towards a softening. And I believe that it will allow me to tell them, one way or another, of the important things happening to me.

    Nounsse, I am without doubt like you, I have great difficulty in speaking although I have the ability to write. And then above all, I have realised that it’s what I want, that they should know. That’s all. I don’t need a reply, and I want to be able to tell them without being interrupted or troubled by their rection.

    I spent part of last night thinking about it: a letter to each? A shared letter?

    Finally I opted for a shared letter. And I spent the rest of the night writing it in my head. I even thought at one time that it was a bit cowardly, perhaps, a letter, but it’s the only means of expression that I have at my disposal…

    Geralda? I’m going to post my letter tomorrow morning (so that it arrives before 16 May) so you must get on :)

  15. Hello!

    I’ve arrived here via Penelope’s blog because I liked your comment so wellJ

    And you know, I recognise myself a little in what you say. Between my father and myself there id a sort of distance and difficulty with being sincere towards each other. It’s lke a conversation which stays superficial in spite of efforts to make it “real”. It’s difficult to explain.

    And besides, I am at a time in my life that I really need his help, but I can’t decide if I should contact him and accept his help or not …

    In short, it’s confused, lovely and a nuisance at the same time.


  16. Live your life for yourself Papillon, it’s your time, you have chosen, keep going ;o)

    And one day, I hope for you, you will see, adult relationships which you can have with your parents can evolve towards closeness and intimacy, on a new basis.

    And a letter, that’s good. It can be reread before sending it and also after it’s received ;o)

  17. Hello to you.

    Just a word off the subject (I am so useless at conducting myself like an adult when faced with my parents, that whatever I say it would be a bad idea :) ) to say that I think of you a lot, a lot, with the passing days and the date approaching...

    I will be abroad next week, but all my thoughts will be with you. Lots of kisses.

  18. Hello and welcome, anonymous! You've put your finger on an important point in managing this difficult relationship with your father: accepting his help or not, and going further away from his love. I realise that I'm not any good, personally. Habits, fear, reserve, I don't really know but I clearly have a problem with the fact that HE can show me his love in a concrete way ..

    Thank you Lili, and yes, a letter, that lasts, it leaves a mark. And that idea pleases me (in fact I think I'll keep the rough copy).

    Hello Fyfe! You know I am very happy to read you here. And I am also very touched that you are thinking about me...

  19. You know, I've just been to Wikipedia to find out more about female circumcision. I knew roughly what it was ...but oh, I find it's awful, in the end I can't even manage to imagine that anyone could harm anyone else without their agreement just for tradition and the other "bullshit" (please excuse me) of that kind.

    Well done you, anyway. You have my support (for what it's worth).

  20. In reading your comment, I realize that I can't find anything great, pleasant or positive that we do in the name of the traditions. For me that says it all ...
    In any case, thank you for your message:)


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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