Phoenix, AZ

Daughter steps back from dad: "I spent my whole life running after his approval"

Amy Christie

Sarah Gundle tried hard to please her father while she was growing up. Everything she did was meant to keep the connection with him. Unfortunately, there came a time when they just didn't see things the same way.

Her choices along the way disappointed him, and somehow they became so distant that he won't return her calls or give her a chance to apologize for the slightest inconvenience.

The daughter has decided to take her life back into her own hands, value her choices, and develop her unique abilities even if they might not be what her dad wanted for her. And she won't live the life he planned for her, but she intends to be happy even if she meets with disapproval.

What are the details?

"Growing up, I wanted to please my father. His playful face made me laugh uproariously as I climbed into his lap," Sarah, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, shared with Insider about her childhood.

"But as I grew up, I couldn't fit in his lap anymore, so the game grew stale. That's why I scrambled to find other ways to make sure his interest in me was still there. 'Are you sure that's what you want?' my mother asked me when I requested an encyclopedia set for my birthday. It was my dad's raised eyebrows and gratified smile that I truly wanted," she added.

Sarah did her best to get interesting skills and abilities, so she could still be close to her dad, no matter what it cost her or how stressful it was.

"He liked that I was good with language, so I immediately signed up for spelling bees and ended up running words with dad for hours. I managed to hide from him that I got so nervous before taking the stage that I felt sick almost every time. I went for extra credit in physics so he could help me. I knew how often he chose to spend time with me instead of my mom or brother; I didn't care — pleasing my dad became part of who I was," Sarah recalls.

Unfortunately, getting all the attention was not always easy, and staying in the spotlight required a constant struggle that didn't leave much room to have fun. Sarah's attempts to deserve her dad's praise affected her relationship with her mother.

They grew distant, and to this day, she feels a chilly atmosphere when they are together.

"Being on a pedestal can be precarious, though. Not only does it require a constant scramble to remain in place, but it can take a heavy toll on other relationships. My mother's understandable reaction opened a distance between us. Even my little brother, whom I was close to, often resented me," Sarah shared.

Things changed gradually, though. As the years went by, Sarah realized the special bond she had with her dad was beginning to dissolve.

After she didn't go along with his choice for a career, their talks became formal and lacked curiosity and affection.

"He thought I'd be a good lawyer, so I applied to law school dutifully. At the very last minute, I decided against it, and he took that step as a personal affront. That's when his interest in me began to wane. An awkward formality crept into our conversations after that."

So, she had to face the fact that he didn't know her that well and that her skills could be thrown away while trying for approval. Sarah also felt like she'd lost a part of herself by constantly trying to please her father instead of being herself.

"It became clear he didn't know me so well, and in light of that revelation, another one, more disturbing than the first, followed: I didn't know myself either. I spent my whole life running after his approval, and I never paused to ask myself who I wanted to be," the daughter explained.

Sarah is determined to change and rediscover what makes her unique, valuing each trait beyond any reaction from her dad. It was precisely Father's Day that inspired her to take this step and change the course of her life.

"This Father's Day, I mourned the loss of the father I thought I had. But I'm also ready to forgive myself for cleaving so tightly to the story I held about us, brittle in its dishonesty, so full of yearning. One of the hardest things was knowing when to let go of what wasn't possible. It's also what is hardest about letting go of a parent," she concluded on the difficult process of learning to face the fact that she wouldn't live up to her dad's expectations and that this doesn't make her a less valuable person.


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Amy Christie is a passionate writer and journalist, always striving to bring out the positive and create meaningful connections.

Dallas, TX

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