By Sheri McGregor, MA
On California’s coast, a tree known as the Lone Cypress stands on a rocky precipice overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The tree is hailed as a symbol of fortitude, and people pay to drive a 17-mile loop just to see it. Many years ago, I was one of those people—and at first, was let down by the sight.
The tree makes a nice photo, and I liked the conveyed idea: a tree that clings to life, thrives despite adversity, and symbolizes courage, strength, and resilience. It spoke to a spirit of independence and strength that I admire.
Parents of estranged adult children: Even the strongest benefit from support
But if you make the trip, you’ll find out that the tree’s “fortitude” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the blowing Pacific winds, partially hidden cables actually hold the tree up in place. Seeing those, I remember thinking the tourist write-ups had pulled a fast one.
But as time passed, and the storms of life pushed and pulled at me, I began to see the Lone Cypress and its moniker as a symbol of fortitude in a new light.
The word, “fortitude,” means strength in the face of adversity. Once-upon-a-time, a seed fell into the rocky soil. Its inner strength defied the harsh elements at the edge of the cliff. The seed began to grow.
Many of us are just this strong and independent, perhaps to a fault. We’ve survived adversity. We’ve even thrived in life’s rocky soils. But for me, as for many of us, there comes a time going it alone isn’t the best choice. Just as the tree might have lost its footing and crashed into the ocean if it weren’t for the cables, even the strongest among us, at times, need support.
Thankfully, we can choose to step away from the precarious cliffs of manipulative or one-sided relationships, calm the winds of negative, circular thinking, and plant ourselves among the nourishing forest of help and support.
How can you support your well-being?
Parker, a divorced father, tried to maintain a relationship with his daughter, who was 12 when his marriage ended. Their relationship grew increasingly tenuous, and after she graduated college, she made room for her father only for holidays. She’s now in her 30s. Over the last several years, Parker has repeatedly reached out to try and foster a relationship with her and his young grandchildren, without success.
“I needed to get free of trying so hard,” Parker explains. “In the last eight or nine years, the only time she contacted me was when she needed money. I’d give it to her, and then she’d go back to ignoring me. On the odd occasions we did spend any time together, or if she answered her phone, she’d pick a fight. It always ended badly.”
When Paker made the decision to give in, and lovingly disengage from the one-sided relationship, he realized just how much self-criticism and negativity had been taking up psychological space. “I was always wondering what I’d said or done wrong, and how I could be more careful next time. What would I say when I called her next? What possible ways could she react? How could I adjust what I said to avoid that response? It was exhausting.”
Entrenched habits can be difficult to break. Parker isn’t the type of person who readily asks for help. Like others who pride themselves on their independence and strength, Parker is used to being the ones other people ask for assistance. But even the Lone Cypress, a symbol of strength and fortitude, requires support.
Fathers, feel free to join the online support forum for parents of estranged adult children as well. While most of the members are women, a few men have joined and occasionally post. Quite a few fathers populate the Facebook Page too.
Are you a symbol of fortitude, standing all alone on the edge? Don’t suffer through the experience of estrangement all alone.
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