The Shape Shifting Father Figure

Photo by lauren lulu taylor on Unsplash

My father has always been a very reserved man. He grew up in a machismo household; taught to hold his tongue with emotions, mask his struggles, and portray himself to look tough and dignified at all costs. But despite his need to look strong… he has a soft heart.

Growing up, none of my friends had their biological fathers living with them. Most of them had a step-father or their mother had a boyfriend, but their actual father for one reason or another had walked away from their lives at a really early age. They always described feeling a void inside not having their actual dad close to them, as if something were missing. Whenever they came over however, my dad would play with us or take us out to the park. He would buy us ice cream and snacks for our movie nights. He’d play the volume extra loud so that it sounded like we were in an actual movie theater. Whenever one of my friends had issues at home, he would let them sleepover and ask my mom to make them dinner. He’d listen to their problems and give them advice. He became like a father that they themselves had adopted.

It was interesting though because he was different towards me when they weren’t around. He’d shapeshift into someone that didn’t show the same sensitivity and soft heart. If I’d cry, he’d tell me to suck it up. He never hugged me when I was upset or listened to me whenever something went wrong at school. He always encouraged me to find a solution to my problems by myself. If I wanted to go out somewhere he’d tell me to go read or study instead. If I were hungry he’d tell me to cook or to find something to eat on my own.

It took me years to understand the tactic behind what my father was doing. I later realized that father figures give us the type of fortitude and strength that we need. My friends didn’t have stability at home, so he became their pillar. They didn’t always have the emotional support they needed to feel strong, so he became their source of resilience. They didn’t have comfort at home, so he provided them with a place that felt safe. He knew that since I had stability, support, and comfort. I would grow up to be helplessly soft and sensitive if he wasn’t strict with me. So he neglected some of my emotional needs so I could learn to face life on my own, but allowed me to see through my friends that whenever I did need him, he had the resources to support me in any way that I needed it.

As I’m writing this he’s in the hospital. He doesn’t remember what has happened in the last 24 hours. He can’t eat on his own. He’s confused, scared, and unfortunately physically alone because of restrictions placed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But till this moment he’s still teaching us how to be strong. It was predicted that he wouldn’t survive past 3 months from his cancer diagnosis. He’s survived over a year and is still fighting. If you looked at him at this moment, you wouldn’t think that he looks like the stereotypical father figure; he can’t stand up on his own with a straight back, chest forward, shoulders down, and head up. But I would argue that his spiritual endurance, mental strength, and emotional grit are bolder than ever.

Father figures aren’t meant to pick you up when you fall. They’re not supposed to heal you from your pain. They’re not supposed to wipe away your tears when you cry or scare off the “bad people” when you’re scared. Father figures teach you, show you, guide you into finding your own inner strength and values that will help you feel safe and supported even after they’re long gone. It is only when things are unbearable and you’re completely lost will you be able to turn to them and simply with their smile you’ll know that everything will be okay.

And just to note, not all father figures are biological fathers, or men for that matter. They can be a mentor, a neighbor, a family friend or even one’s own mom. They can all shape shift into the father figure that children and young adults need to help shape their inner fortitude and resilience.

Written on July 1, 2020. Final edits on July 5, 2020.

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Striving to be a holistic psychologist & writer. Advocate for health, wellness, and well-being. Support my journey: https://rose-mejia1998.medium.com/membership

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Rose Mejia

Rose Mejia

Striving to be a holistic psychologist & writer. Advocate for health, wellness, and well-being. Support my journey: https://rose-mejia1998.medium.com/membership

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