Dr. Emi Garzitto
Relationship Over Rules
What do you do when someone you love defies the rules that define you?
There is a grieving father in front of me. His shoulders are curled forward in defeat. His eyes are looking at my old circular brown industrial school table. He is sitting in a chair that is too small for his body; the consequence of being inside an elementary school. His daughter is dating someone outside of his culture, out of his comfort zone, out of all the rules and regulation that define his faith, his status, his value.
She is too young and still she has defied all of her home restrictions and discovered the holes and crevices of their rigidity and still finds ways to see her boyfriend. The father is devastated and working hard not to give up on his daughter, on his obligation to be the head of the household and his work to have her comply.
She is too young.
What do you do when someone you love defies the rules that define you? How do you navigate all of the landmines of cultural norms, saving face, personal shame, shock and disappointment? What happens when the hard fast rule comes in collision with the person that you love and care about? What if they are in complete opposition and you have done everything you can to put the two together but have failed?
I can’t give this grieving father the latest information on brain research or a book on how to change someone’s mind. It is far too late for that. I cannot tell him it’s not his fault or that he can’t control his daughter’s choices. It is too late for that.
When our loved ones make choices that slam in the face of a strong belief, value or moral absolute — whether that be connecting outside of your religious or cultural group, homosexuality, abortion, or any of the growing far-left and far-right political conversations — there is very little we can do. Big challenges especially those that hit at the core of a moral value or long defined belief tend to find decisions that are equally black and white.
We are stuck choosing an absolute. A binary choice of you or the rule; love or compliance; a home or a relationship.
I wish to offer another binary choice for this grieving father. I wish to offer him something other than my way or the highway. I have seen how these binary choices play out years down the road.
I want to say, you can choose to hold the rule or you can choose to hold the daughter. Ten years down the road, what is the choice that will make you feel better? Even if your daughter makes a choice that is terrible and creates many negative consequences to your family standing in your community, can you love her anyways, can you choose not to withhold your love as a father even though you are disappointed that she is making a choice you strongly disagree with? Is there room to say, I think you’re making a terrible mistake or I think this is not what I would want for you or even, this choice really challenges what I think I am supposed to do as your father and I don’t agree with it but you know I can still love you I can still tell you I am crazy about you. I want what’s best for you even though I disagree with your choice right now.
Can we hold relationship over the rule? Even when the cost of the rule is large? Even if it means some members of our community will no longer choose to include us? Or maybe speak badly of us?
Either way there will be a loss. You will lose your daughter, you will lose your ability to influence and be a presence in her life if you decide to leave her behind or dismiss her.
I end up saying very little. I end up in the room just listening and holding the space and letting him think out loud all of the choices and consequences. In the end I just say something like, this must be so hard as a father as someone who loves their daughter to see her make a choice you think is terribly wrong. And I can see it is causing you so much suffering. I imagine she is suffering right now too and she is probably scared. I think she needs a father more than ever even if she no longer believes in the same rules as you. She needs your love and connection. I would hate to see you lose your chance at being someone who can influence her and help her as she gets older.
I am not sure he hears any of it. I am not sure if he has already dismissed me as someone on the other side of his right.
Relationships should always come before the rule. I get that the reality of this is complex and full of consequences. But the long game, and we should always be thinking about the long game, is one that favours connection over rules.