Monday, June 27, 2011

Family Secrets

 I caught Tatum O’Neal’s show on OWN last night. The show documents Tatum’s attempt at reconciliation with her long-estranged father, Ryan.  Tatum is now in her late 40s, but her childhood wounds continue to haunt her.  You can see the pain she experiences as she talks about her father and as she interacts with him.  She seems determined to make an earnest attempt at reconciliation.  She states that Ryan is her only living family member, and even if she fails she will be satisfied in knowing that she tried. 
            The show ended with Ryan and Tatum seeing separate therapists.  Ryan’s therapist seemed nervous and intimidated by Ryan, who initially did not want to be in the therapist’s office.  Ryan is defensive, at first, but his walls begin to come down as he realizes that he wants Tatum back in his life.  Tatum is skeptical that Ryan has the capacity to understand how his temper affected her as she grew up and even now. 
            As a daughter and someone with an advanced degree in family therapy, I marveled at the fact that this show is on television.  While I recognize that these individuals are aware that they are being filmed, I was pleased to see some recognition of the effect family members have on each other.  Even though Tatum left home at age 17, she continued to be impacted by her parents’ divorce, her mother’s drug abuse, and her father’s violent temper. 
Tatum became an addict herself.  She felt she had no one to turn to.  Her father couldn’t seem to grasp this.  He told her that she had a career and many friends.  Ryan couldn’t seem to understand that his daughter needed him.  At first, he could only see his own perspective.  But, through therapy and talking with his daughter, he began to understand that he was selfish in choosing “a woman to sleep with” over his young daughter.  He recognized that his temper affected his family.
This is an example of family members becoming polarized from each other.  Each was deadlocked in maintaining his own perspective and they blamed each other.  It seems that Ryan bore the majority of the responsibility since he was the parent in this situation.  However, due to his own issues, he was not able to live up to his responsibilities.  Ideally, he would have been mature enough to nurture the relationship with his daughter as well as his relationship with Farrah Fawcett.
I hope that I will catch the show again.  It will be interesting to see how Tatum and Ryan’s relationship progresses.  I hope that it teaches us to be more aware of how our behaviors affect other people, especially those closest to us.   How might you show gratitude and appreciation to someone close to you today?  Can you take a moment to consider the other person’s perspective before you respond? 
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