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No One Measures Up to My Father’s Memory

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My amazing father set the standard for what I think I relationship should be like. Everyone I’ve ever dated has been a disappointment for me. I’ve had to break up with some of the sweetest guys I’ve ever met because I got to the point where I realized I was spending most of my time antagonizing over their flaws and I made myself (and them) miserable. I just can’t get over the high standard set for whom ever I spend the rest of my life with.

See, I just don’t know how to stop comparing the guys to my dad! My dad tragically died when I was in 7th grade. His death was a harsh slap in the face by reality and it crippled my belief in God. I remember my father as a great man. Actually, I literately can not think of anything my father ever did wrong. The only memories I have of my father is of him being the most fantastic father, husband, and Christan he could be. My mother tries to tactfully remind me he was human too, but I can’t stand thinking of him doing anything wrong. I’m tried of breaking hearts! I’m making everyone miserable. I just don’t know how to separate my father’s memory from real life expectations.

You state in your letter “set the standard for what I think a relationship should be like.” You know what your relationship was like with your father. You are an expert on him as a father. You also state that he was the most fantastic husband. Only his wife would be able to knowledgeably comment on his ability to be a husband. You experienced your father, as a father, directly. Your mother experienced your father as her husband, directly. You were a onlooker into their relationship. Your mother has been just an onlooker into the relationships with the men that you have dated. I’m sure that you would agree, that she had been just looking in from the outside. The complexities of your relationships with the men that you have dated are not available to her. There is a public and personal side to virtually every relationship.

You mentioned how difficult it was for you to deal with your father’s death. It crippled your belief in God. You also said your father’s death was tragic. I think it is reasonable to conclude that you feel that your father’s death was very unfair. In your mind he is a victim. When you love someone very, very much, it is very natural to protect them at all costs. Many people would gladly give up their own life to protect someone that they love.

It appears to me that you are protecting your father by protecting his memory. It is your way of continuing to protect him. Your mother, who is trying to protect you, gently reminds you that your father was not perfect. I would have to trust your mother’s judgment as to your father’s abilities as a husband. I would trust your judgment as to your father’s ability to be a father.

The most important thing in life is to concur with reality. We must not see things as better than they are, nor worse. It is very natural for you to compare your boyfriends to your father. Sigmund Freud has long ago established this as fact.

I would like to ask you a question and I will respect and accept your answer. You have an impression of your father that is based on his only living until you were only in seventh grade. You presently possess that impression. What if he were alive today? What if you had all of those additional years with him? You did quite a bit of maturing after seventh grade; everyone does. You were much more knowledgeable in high school than you were in grade school. You saw the world in a much more complex way in high school and college. Now here’s my question: do you think that your impression of your father would be different if he were alive at this moment?

I have a few other questions that you might want to consider. Were you the perfect child? Do you think that your father would love you any less if you weren’t perfect? You know that your father loved you. You can feel it with every fiber of your being, even now. Those that you love, truly love, need not be perfect or even close.

You have pointed out that you’re having relationship problems. You stated that it’s time to do something about that. I would recommend counseling and I would focus that counseling on grief. In closing, I would like to assure you that no imperfection that you were to discover about your father would ever diminish the love that you feel for him.

You will find a list of therapists by clicking the “find help” tab at the topic of this page. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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