Every Dad, Every Day

by  Rick Deise, Past President/Board Member of The Eating Disorder Network of Maryland

I love Father’s Day because my father loved me every day. Growing up, there was never a doubt in my mind that my dad loved me wholeheartedly and unconditionally. Sure, there were moments when we disagreed but there was always a connection that seemed bendable and yet, unbreakable. He was my Hero – from his larger-than-life stories as a combat medic in the South Pacific Campaigns of World War II to the simple, humble way he served family and friends as the “handyman”. Preparing for this Father’s Day, my memory of his life and influence intersects with my memory as a father of two amazing young women; one who faced enormous challenges in a 4-year battle with an eating disorder.

Last month I had the opportunity and privilege to speak to the wonderful participants of the Rock Recovery “Building Bridges, Breaking Bread” event. That message was about my role as a dad who struggled to understand how this thing called Anorexia Nervosa had seemingly taken over my daughter Kristen’s life at the precious age of 15. And I spoke of my “natural instinct” to “fix” this problem because that’s just what dads do – we fix things. Well, clearly, that was one of many early mistakes that I made along the journey of the eating disorder (ED).

So, my story ultimately shifted to what I believe I did to make a positive difference in Kristen’s recovery. The essence of that story was about accepting that the eating disorder was bigger than any problem I had ever faced and required a set of solutions (and tools) that were greater than my understanding of the problem. The solution set really came down to remembering what life lessons my dad had given to me (be kind and gentle, help others whenever you can, always use the right tool for the task, and if you’re going to fix something, do it to the best of your abilities or get help – don’t half-a** the work). Renewing my courage through the memory of my dad led me to discern that his strengths were also my most dependable strengths: LOVE, HOPE, and FAITH.

Give LOVE. And not just any love – unconditional love! Love without any strings or condition is the most powerful antidote to the intolerable suffering imposed by ED. Your loved one has an eating disorder – she is not the eating disorder. Love them to reach tomorrow and give them a reason to love themselves even more. When you give love, you create the fertile space to receive love.

Give HOPE. Once you lay the groundwork of love, you can plant the seeds of hope. Those seeds have names like “Possibility”, “Opportunity”, and “Tomorrow”. They speak of what’s next and they can grow inside your loved one as they work their way to recovery. When you hold hope, you bring light into the dark spaces and that light can help guide your loved one even when she is not really sure how to take the next step.

Give FAITH. At its most fundamental meaning, faith simply believes without seeing. It does not matter what form it takes or what religion you practice, faith is about connecting that which is the greatest within you to something even greater outside of you. When you have faith, you create the sacred space where love and hope can grow.

Today, Kristen is a very healthy and vibrant 27-year old who is in her third year as a Registered Nurse with the University of Maryland Hospital System! As a dad of someone who has recovered from her eating disorder, I marvel how life had taken on new meaning and direction as I continued to “pay it forward” through my volunteer work with the Eating Disorder Network of Maryland and now in support of Rock Recovery.

So, I offer some additional words of wisdom to the dad and moms and siblings and supporters of someone who is currently struggling with an eating disorder. Even though my perspective is one from a dad’s point of view, I believe every heart has the capability to teach and connect with another heart that has the capacity to learn and grow and change the story:

Every heart is a mere 12-15 inches south of the brain so help your loved one keep the two connected by inspiring their thoughts with the safe feelings generated by love, hope, and faith.

Every heart relies on trust in a relationship; build that trust with your loved one by offering to share the truth in exchange for receiving the truth (because we know that eating disorders tell lies).

Every heart has the power to generate an attitude of gratitude; start today, share your gratitude right now. Build rituals that promote an attitude of gratitude at your waking, throughout your day, and at the closing of your evening.

Every heart has a capacity to hold hope – hope is a psychological investment in the future. The future is where your greatest life purpose unfolds. Hold fast to hope and hold hope up to your loved one every moment of every single day.

Every heart holds a story and the most important story you will ever tell about yourself is the story you tell to yourself: be courageous – it’s time to change your story to hope and recovery! 

In closing, I offer to you my Prayer for Recovery:

Have FAITH that your LOVE will sustain the HOPE in your loved one’s recovery. AMEN!

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