My own estrangement from my father is about a year old, and Estranged came into my life right in the middle of it. Just over six months ago, I read the brand new “Kindle Single,” the day it came out. I couldn’t stop reading, once I started. In a way, I had to do it all at once – click the link on Facebook, buy the book, download the book, read the book. I told myself, don’t think too much. Get through the pain. Learn what you can.
The strength of Estranged is that it doesn’t “think” too much; the simplicity of author Jessica Berger Gross‘s storytelling lets me project my own experience right on to her insights. “When the estrangement began, I thought of it as a break. … the days stacked up and I came to collect and register each no-parent day like someone in recovery would record a day of sobriety. The plain truth was, the longer I went without seeing my parents, the better my life became.” Tears come to my eyes every time I read that passage. It’s just how I feel, for all the time and details that separate my life from the author’s experience.
Estrangement from a parent brings up so many questions that hover and cloud the intuition that demands distance. What about love? Don’t I love my father? Don’t I value family? Was it wise to reject a parent so soon after becoming a parent, myself?
Estranged asks the same questions, but Berger Gross doesn’t have answers, any more than I do. There’s a great deal of emotional release in finding that someone with so much more time and distance can answer only the simpler questions: when? How? Why? Why continue the silence? What about your own child? When it becomes clear that a parent can threaten the safety of even an adult child. By simply walking away. Because a parent’s, or parents’, behavior is unsafe, and becomes it remains unsafe. To protect my self and my child from that behavior. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, other threats… it doesn’t matter. Those other, bigger questions simply don’t matter to a child whose safety is threatened, even if she is an adult.
If you have never felt threatened by your own parents, it can be nearly impossible to relate to the paradox faced by adult children, estranged from ours. The primal need to be “close” to a parent pulls against the drive for safety, the “fight or flight” instinct that rises in every human, when we feel threatened. Berger Gross writes, “Now I am something like proud of my choice. … I know artists, writers, lawyers — people with advanced degrees and money in the bank who tremble at the thought of some 70- or 80-something man or woman in Ohio or Boca or Baltimore.”
I was in the process of joining Berger Gross, when I read Estranged; the trembling I felt was beginning to recede. At some point, I simply felt certain that I would not feel safe with my father in my life, and that following the pull toward my father would inevitably lead to that adrenaline rush to fight, or fly.
Berger Gross finishes her book with this thought on her parents: “They did love me, I know. Maybe they still do.” I understand that; my father did love me and maybe still does. The proverbial cord that ties us to our parents can’t be cut, in my opinion. But it can be left alone, so that what’s on the other side can’t tug at me, anymore. It takes a great deal of strength to leave a relationship with a lifetime of history, literally. I’m proud of that strength, and happy to enjoy the deep sense of safety that has settled into my life.
*This post contains an affiliate link, so if you purchase this book after following this link, I will receive a small payment for sending you to Amazon. I did not receive even a free copy of this book in exchange for this review, which was inspired only by my gratitude for and appreciation of it.