My parents became ill and died in the last half year. On the one hand I was lucky to have had them for long enough to have made a good relationship with them to replace the strained one we lived with on different continents for too many years. On the other hand, and as the mist of grief and loss has lifted, I notice in their passing a further increase in easy affection triggered by photos and the clearing of their belonging. I also notice an increase in feelings of self worth that I hadn’t expected.
At my Father’s funeral I acknowledged the heroic way in which he fulfilled on his commitment in marriage to my Mother and to us as his children to provide for us materially which he did faithfully until he drew his last breath. I know it was a matter of regret for him that his own feelings of vulnerability as a young man got in the way of being my emotional anchor when I was young and needed it most. We had made peace with each other for which I am most grateful but the injury to my self worth was real and it’s effects lasting.
Last night I watched the final episode of the compelling BBC1 docudrama, Three Girls. In case you didn’t see it here is a synopsis.
Reports of grooming and sexual abuse of young teenage girls by older men in Rotherham in England was ignored for years by police and social services to whom it was reported because they had formed the opinion that underage drinking, sex and prostitution was a lifestyle choice made by these girls, two of whom were already on the radar of social services and one of whom was known to have special learning needs. It was only the team of sexual health workers led by the courageous Sara Robotham who consistently stood up for the protection of those girls. Sara saw what was going on, gathered data, argued with authorities and persisted in the face of powerful opposition ultimately being cast adrift by her own employers for daring to blow the whistle on deficiencies in their fulfilment of their statutory responsibility for child protection.
It was made clear to viewers that these little girls, these daughters were at risk because they were vulnerable. They were vulnerable to people who paid them attention, who were amusing and generous and they were too young and inexperienced to know that they were being worn down to the point where they would then be easily coerced into participation in sexual acts and prostitution, too lost and ashamed to be able to save themselves.
Holly was vulnerable because having moved house due to financial hardship in her family, she was without friends in her new school in a rougher area. Her need for belonging made her an easy target for people who would trade her belonging for becoming like them. As her behaviour increasingly crashed into the expectations of her distressed parents, her father became angry, judgemental and rejecting; at his wits end no doubt, on the day he told her to go and live elsewhere.Holly’s Dad was also hurting. He was struggling with the loss of their old life. I imagine he may have felt he was failing and struggling to cope with what looked like the further deterioration of his family. A gap between expectation and experience can be very destructive when it comes to how we see ourselves.
Holly, having no faith in this angry man to help her with any of the difficulties she was experiencing, did exactly what she was told. She took up residence with a feral pack of young people who had no earthly clue that they were at risk let alone how to protect themselves.
And you know what that led to. What would have made a difference?
Imagine that Holly’s Dad could have done at the outset what he eventually did thanks to the kindness of Sara and others. Imagine he could have seen Holly’s behaviour as an indication of unhappiness rather than disobedience or badness? Imagine that Holly’s Dad could have been able to ask her what was troubling her instead of judging her. Imagine that Holly could have felt so secure in her Father’s love that she could have said the unsayable and been heard and responded to constructively?
I reflected on my own experience of personal growth and confidence since the passing of my truly loving Father whom I knew in my younger years as angry and judgemental. What a tragedy that the fear they experienced seeing their precious daughter going out into the world was expressed through anger and judgement rather than loving kindness. What a tragedy that those judgements shut down honest conversation that would have helped protect a beloved child in a risky world.
Some years ago I made this recommendation to two male friends who were shocked at the sexualised environment they had been instructed to enter to purchase clothing gifts for their daughters in Abercromie & Fitch. It is my message to all Dads.
Make sure that your daughters learn from you that you love them; that they are beautiful; that they will not be rejected by you for trying and failing in the world; that exams marks matter for progress in the world but not for the retention of your love and protection; that you too are excited by the opportunities this world holds for them and that you encourage them to reach for their dreams. That way they will not be at the mercy of falling for a pale imitation of love from some self interested lover.
Create a home where your daughter can say the unsayable when she feels lost and alone and don’t fear the outcome. You are the grown up. Know that you are not being judged when she feels insecure. She doesn’t expect you to have all the answers; she just needs to know that she is secure in your love. Trust in the truth that she tells you and don’t be afraid to tell your own truth. Let love and kindness pick your words rather than judgement and fear. In that openness you will be great for each other and then for the world.