“Whatever it is we need to learn from each other, I say let’s do it now, so we don’t have to come back and repeat it,” I told my father once during a period in which I was exploring the concept of reincarnation.
I imagine he lowered his chin and looked over his spectacles at me with that glare that suggested I might be treading on thin ice.
For his 75th birthday, I wrote him a letter acknowledging that growing up with him had prepared me to handle much in life, and I thanked him for that. He said he didn’t really understand my logic, but appreciated the sentiment.
Psychiatric assessments of my father concluded (on more than one occasion) that he was genius bordering on eccentric. If anyone had asked us children – which no one did – we would have said he was impossibly tyrannical. He certainly knew how to manipulate circumstances, and people, to meet his needs.
He could also be inspirational, and when he wasn’t in a rage, quite sentimental. It was confusing to be his child. I both basked and burned under the fire of his being. So many times, I wanted to move away and forget him, and yet, I was always drawn back, seeking more approval, longing to understand.
At the end of his life, sickness and pain mellowed him and we were able to discuss our differences. I told him how I felt alienated by him as a child, as if I was a burden he regretted, and he cried and told me that family was everything to him.
“You had a funny way of showing it,” I said.
Then we talked about what a tortured life he’d led, and how even as a child he thought God was punishing him, and that he’d never known a moment of peace. I felt compassion then.
It wasn’t until after his death that I began to see another side to his story, and to understand my own complicity in his suffering. The righteousness I felt about how he wronged me, wronged all of us, blinded me to the depth of my father’s pain, and in retrospect, I see that he really was a person of courage, admirable actually, in how he carried on, despite his personal challenges.
My father may have been a bastard to live with, but he was a bastard with a soul, and that soul was tortured throughout his eighty years.
Life with father taught me to doubt myself and be wary of others, and it taught me to be tough, determined, and eventually, compassionate.
He never held it against me that I could not accept his truth. I only hope I can one day forgive myself.
(This week’s challenge is to reflect on relationships. As one contributor pointed out, there are friendships and blood relationships, the former a choice, the latter imposed. I didn’t choose my father, but I can’t imagine who’d I’d be if he hadn’t been in my life.)