Reprinted from "Families" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2(3), p. 17
When Elizabeth, the Executive Director of ANAD, asked me if I would write a letter to you about our relationship during my illness, I said yes right away without even thinking about it. I have gotten to know her over the past few months. She showed me previous editions of Visions and said that she was looking for a personal story of a young person’s communication with her dad about her disordered eating.
This was going to be easy, right? Well, Dad, it hasn’t been. I have written over 15 different letters over the past three weeks and thrown them away. I have drawn pictures, and paced the floor. I have finally ended up with this. I took so many tries to get it right because it was the first time that I dug so deep for you to understand me, and for me to understand you. This letter has been great therapy for me. I hope you see it that way.
In writing this, I thought of all of the fun times we had together when I was little. You taught me how to ski and made me laugh more than anyone I have ever known. You traveled a lot when I was small, but whenever Mom took me to the airport to pick you up, it felt like Christmas. I think I was about 14 when I started to feel you didn’t care or you just couldn’t be bothered with me anymore. Fitting into my life seemed to be a big bother to you. Then the fights started over the clothes I wore and how embarrassing it was for you to be seen with me. Dad, I acted tough and stood up to you. I’d go too far and we couldn’t make up for days. I’d go to bed wanting to say sorry, but too proud to give in.
It was the strangest thing to me that you were the one to confront me about my eating disorder. When did you notice? When did you care? Why did you do it without Mom? I’ve never asked you this before. Maybe you thought she was protecting me. Dad, I’m glad it was you. I have never told you this before. I think if it were Mom who confronted me, I would have lied. I actually used to get mad that she was not complimenting me on how great I was looking as I became thinner. But, when you said that one sentence, “Are you starving yourself or throwing up?”, I knew I couldn’t hide it anymore.
Dad, I wish you could understand what I went through for four years after that. We went back to not talking much. When I was well, you were more involved with me – you got me through algebra! But, when I was sick, you tuned out. You and Mom fought a lot, and I felt guiltier and guiltier. You’d make me angry, but I couldn’t be bothered arguing back with you. You just didn’t get it. No, Dad, I couldn’t just go and eat something. No, I couldn’t find myself a passionate interest overnight to “take my mind off of ‘it’.”
Dad, for the past two years, I have been in the best health that I can ever remember. Writing this letter has made me think about you more than I have ever done before. I am so grateful that you made me face my illness when I did, as who knows where I would have ended up. The irony is that after you made me face it, you seemed to be in denial. I felt like I let you down. You rarely took me places. I used to think that you thought my illness was a reflection on you as my dad. You didn’t want people to think you caused this. What if someone stared at my thinness when we were out together? Dad, as I get a bit older, I don’t think this anymore. I think you were too scared and in so much pain that you couldn’t control, that you tuned out. I think the pain of seeing me so sick broke your heart. I think you and Mom just couldn’t work out the pain together.
Dad, this letter is your gift for Father’s Day. The truth is you were there for me when I needed you the most. Your strength got me to face the truth. We are off to a good start, as long as you know I am likely to slip back. This time, I expect you and me to handle things differently.
About the author
Christine is a 19 year-old Lower Mainland college student whose struggle began with eating disorders at the age of 12. She has written this letter to her father for the readers of Visions. Writing a “Dear Dad” letter is an approach used by ANAD (Awareness and Networking around Disordered Eating) to help consumers and families develop mutual understanding about eating disorders and how to provide effective support