On Fathers and Eating Disorders
We’ve been talking about fathers this month and this post is dedicated to all the dads out there who want to be there for their daughter (or son) who has an eating disorder.
Eating Disorder Recovery is a very emotionally-charged experience not only for the person going through the eating disorder, but for the family as well and for this reason, for some fathers recovery can be an incredibly intimidating thing. Despite the best of intentions and desires, many fathers still find it difficult to know how to respond in these types of situations – because sometimes recovery can be dramatic, very dramatic.
My father is a wonderful man. However, like many, he was not raised in a very ‘touchy feely’ type of family – perhaps it was generational, perhaps it’s an Italian thing, or maybe it was just personalities. Now don’t get me wrong, my dad is incredibly loving; however, (much like me) he just shows his love in different ways. And the point of this post is to say that this is OK.
My mom was raised in a family where love is shown more ‘overtly’ – through words and (*cringe*) hugs and so this is how she primarily expresses her feelings. My dad, on the other hand, expresses things more subtly. But I would never say that one way is better than the other or that I feel more love from one of them than from the other.
When I was in recovery from my eating disorder I didn’t talk much to my parents about it directly, but when I did have emotional meltdowns I would turn to my mom. My mom does a good job talking me down from almost any cliff. She also is the first to tell me how much she’s enjoyed one of my recent blogs or videos and how proud she is of me.
But for my dad its different – not ‘less’, just different.
When I write a post or publish a video that suggests I am going through a rough time, or even when he overhears conversations between me and mom about things I am dealing with, he doesn’t come over and put his arm around me, nor does he get on Skype and talk to me for hours on end (though I know he would if I asked). Instead, I will wake up to an email from him with a message like this:
I read today in my Thomas Merton book that he saw a bluebird land on a fence post and then fly off to chase a wasp, unsuccessful in the hunt the bird returned to the fence post. He said the bird was not bothered by his failure in the hunt. He thinks we should learn from the bluebird.
Things don’t always work out, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure.
It is, at the end, part of life.
This is his way of coming over, putting his arm around me, and saying “Everything will be OK”. And it’s exactly what I need. He sends me quotes, scripture, and excerpts from books – not because he couldn’t be bothered to come up with his own words, but because this is his way of showing he cares. And because I’m a lot like him – it’s usually exactly what I need to hear.
Another way my dad shows his love is through his actions. He may not be there when I’m having frustrated conversations with my mom about Intuitive Eating and not knowing what I’m craving or how eating at restaurants is stressful; but that doesn’t mean that he never supported me in my recovery. He just supported me in different ways.
For example, when I was in the early stages of recovery I went home to Zambia for the summer, and I was trying desperately to honour my cravings while having to deal with the limitations of food available in Africa. One of the things I craved most were Tater Tots, which, as you may have guessed, are not available there. And so my dad made them for me from scratch. Without me even asking. He found a recipe, boiled the potatoes, shredded them, made the coating, moulded them into small Taters and then fried them in a pan. And he didn’t do this only once, he did it every time I wanted them. That was his way of supporting my recovery. And to this day, the image of my dad in the kitchen making me Tater Tots from scratch is still one of my favourite memories of him.
See, love doesn’t need to be expressed in obvious ways for it to exist. And neither does a father’s support of his daughter while she is in recovery. The subtle ways are just as helpful, just as meaningful, and just as valuable as any verbal expression. No one way is better than the other.
I know my dad loves me and that he is proud of me – sometimes he tells me, but most of the time he shows me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I know I am his ‘Pumpkin’, and that’s all that matters.