Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Hardest Holiday

Dad and me, circa 1997

Ok, so technically Father's Day is not a holiday, but it is one of those occasions that elicits deep emotion regardless. It may engender positive feelings, or negative ones. Personally, I envy those who have, or had, a father deeply engaged with their family, but I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose someone so beloved. There are others who have never known their father at all, due to abandonment, death, divorce, or some other catastrophe. I do not have an inkling as to the depth of that bitterness, either.

My parents separated when I was about nine years old, and divorced officially when I was eleven. I have no siblings. On the one hand, I would not have wished my parents' tumultuous family life on anyone else, but on the other hand I had no one to validate my own experiences or perceptions of family reality. What I hoped for was that the divorce would bring a "cease fire" but instead it merely changed the focus of arguments to money. Dad apparently wanted to pay less child support than the court ordered, and he may have appealed to that end. I can only rely on hearsay from what my mother had told me, and I have learned to expect both parents to stretch the truth.

What I do recall was the court-mandated visitations with my father every other weekend, and splitting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day between the two households. My mother would always interrogate me upon my return from my father's place, and I felt guilty if I had a good time. Dad would sense this and become angry, and so the wheel of guilt and fear went round and round. I was damned if I did, damned if I didn't. I was a "momma's boy" to my dad, and "just like your father" to my mom. Neither were compliments.

What I apparently inherited from my father is what I appreciate most. He has aged well, and has always been a good-looking man. He is incredibly artistic, creative, and talented in a variety of media, from wood to wax to metal. His chosen career and business was as a jewelry designer and he did fabulous custom works for his clients. I am not half bad in the creative departments of illustration and writing if I may be so bold as to assert that. Dad also had a great work ethic which I have slowly lost.

What I learned from my father has been the source of much personal humiliation, professional setbacks, and social awkwardness. My father gets his way by being demonstrably angry. His temper is something I fear to this day. He is opinionated to the point of being a bigot and a racist, or nearly so. He does not play well with others, especially in the workplace. He was selling insurance during my infancy and toddler years, and he made no bones about hating that. He moonlighted as a jeweler, repairing watches and creating the odd ring or pendant for someone.

Dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps, to take over his jewelry business when he could no longer produce. I am not entirely sure he has forgiven me for following a different path. Now that his second wife has passed, several years ago now, and my mother passed away in December of 2014, he wants me and my wife to move back to the Portland, Oregon area to spend more time with him, if not take care of him, and save him the headache of selling his home. He wants his way, as usual.

I cannot fathom the circumstances of abuse and neglect, and/or the foster care system that others endure or have endured. My mother could. She was in the foster care system before we even had the standards of care we have today. What you learn about parenting during your childhood you also tend to apply when you become a parent. This negative cycle can be turned around, but it takes either immense personal effort at not repeating mistakes, or the proverbial "village," or both. Today we no longer trust the village. We even home school our children for fear they might be exposed to concepts like evolution, or be surrounded by "others" who we ourselves fear and loathe.

My father has never really earned my respect, but now here I am faced with growing responsibility for decisions that he soon may not be able to make for himself. How ironic. I will at some point likely be the parent to my parent. I do hope I can act with compassion and sensitivity, even in the face of his anger that stems from who-knows-what or where.

Boys, enjoy your good father if you have one, today and every day. Rise above your bad father. Seek mentors not only for your potential career, but for examples of what it means to be a man, a husband, a father. Girls, take joy and pride in your good father. Look for mentors yourselves to help you find a good husband if your father is not a good man. Today, take stock. Be honest. Be your father's champion, or be your own.

9 comments:

  1. I think many of us have complicated relationships with our dads. And it is so hard to rise beyond what those complications do to us - the relationships we have with our parents really seem to be almost in our DNA and hard to overcome in adulthood.

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  2. I didn't think I could admire you more than I already do. But I do.

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  3. It can be very difficult to have a challenging parent, one who makes you feel dread. Sometimes it can help to know that they must have experienced something pretty awful themselves to make them so broken. For our own sakes, it is better to feel compassion for these angry souls, instead of or alongside the anger for robbing your childhood of some of the wondrous joy that children deserve.

    If your goal was to become a better man, you have done so. Be proud. And I wish you the best with what is to come.

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    1. Thank you for the compliment and advice.

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  4. Thanks for these thought, Eric - Nicely written. I could especially relate to the points about your parents divorce, and how their relationship proceeded afterward, my parents having divorced when I was 9. My parents were far from perfect, but I at least knew then and know now that they cared about and loved us, for all the flaws in child-rearing. I know enough about both of their backgrounds to explain and understand some of my parents' foibles, and that helps me to see beyond. Both were fabulous intellects, and I got a lot from being in that environment - basically, almost everything I'm good at now..
    PS - Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. I wish I had asked more about them.

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  5. I deeply appreciate your personal writings. I too come from a very complicated family, as does my husband. Our gratitude to one another in having a happy marriage comforts us on these holidays, which are not such joyful occasions for either of us. Thank you for your courage and clarity.

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    1. Thank you for the compliments and sharing your strategy for coping.

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