It may be strange to say, on a blog dedicated to excessive self-flagellation and the magnification of ubiquitous trivialities, but there are certain insufficiencies and disappointments of which I have never complained. This is not due so much to any masculine stoicism, nor the eventual resolution brought by the passage of time, but rather because, to put it in simple terms, I was afraid to confront it.
And so this topic may have remained unexamined still, except that I have recently resolved to abandon the comforting crutch of avoidance for the less certain, but ultimately more rewarding (hopefully) promise of personal honesty. That is, honesty to myself about myself.
Probably even a few weeks ago I could never have written this post, or if I had it would have been left forever unpublished, or at best buried through the judicious use of back dating. But with the help of a good and paitent friend, I've learned that what you don't say is far more hurtful than what you do.
With this newfound, and yet unsteady dedication, I turn to review in earnest a topic of great personal dissatisfaction. Appropriately enough, for Father's Day, it is my relationship with my own.
I should start out by allowing that my parents were very young when I was born. My dad was 23, my mom 19. The undeniable fact is that, to a certain extent, I ruined their lives, and though I can be assigned little blame, still the realization is actual enough to prompt some degree of guilt. Had they had their first child later, no doubt everyone would have been happier. This is not to say that they didn't adjust, or that they would wish things were different. But it is undeniable that basically I screwed things up for everybody.
The actual problem, however, is that at 23, and with the subsequent demands of family life from such a young age, my dad lacked any of the attributes of responsible parentage aside from a firm sense of responsibility. When I came, and then almost two years later my brother as well, he took a job he hated and worked to provide for us, and I respect that effort. Unfortunately his own displeasure grew, and when combined with his volitile personality, explosive temper, and generally poor disposition, it produced in him a growing discontent that he was unable to properly manage.
While I in no sense wish to imply that my childhood was an unremitting misery, neither would it be accurate to say that it was not miserable. The fact is that the behavior of my father would, by today's standards, be considered physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive. He could be brought into uncontrollable rages by trivial infractions or insignificant accidents. Setting the wrong dinner fork, or using a TV tray that he wanted were among the most absurd triggers, though there were others.
His anger could be a terrible thing to behold, especially to a small child. When enraged he delighted in subjecting us to blistering evaluations and tirades of endless profanity. In those unfortunate situations where emotional wounds seemed in his judgment insufficient, he proved willing to resort to those more readily apparent.
On an absolute metric of physical abuse, probably what we received was fairly mild. We were never punched or kicked, used as footstools or ashtrays. But we were hit, and by which I mean to indicate more than spanking or a little whack aside the head, though such indulgences may also have made occasional appearances.
During my father's rages, my mother would usually stand off to the side. He never, insofar as I know, was physical with her in the least, but whether through fear or agreement, she abstained from intervention, except when it seemed he had finally lost the last semblence of control.
Even with my limited understanding of psychology, I know that such experiences have left deep wounds, which yet are still raw to the touch. In many ways the personal deficiencies that trouble me on so many levels are attributable, either directly or indirectly, to these events. Of course I do not mean to lay all my inadequacies at my father's feet, and at any rate these incidents ended long ago, and it is reasonable to say I should simply get over it.
In a very real way, part of me never actually matured. Or, if it did, it did so in some stunted and twisted sense. There is a piece of my soul that never grew up, but rather learned to grow over itself, with layer after layer of insufficient rationalizations and imperfect defenses. I have lived with the fear that, in the end, I may be nothing more than the little boy who tried to shield his head from his father's anger. And it is an apprehension that still colors everything that I am.
But I realize now that whatever my father's errors, in the end the responsibility is my own. Fear offers only hesitation and discontent, and it is my fault and mine alone if I accept them. I am still broken, I think, and probably will always remain so in at least some fashion.
But I am unwilling to condemn myself to a life of misery, nor through some misguided sense of anger, allow the responsibility for my own contentment to rest with others. For a very long time I was bitter and angry and hateful, but those emotions have wearied me, and provided nothing in recompense. So while I may not be able to completely abandon them, at least no longer will I rely on them.
Interestingly enough, my current relationship with my dad is tolerably pleasent. We have a stable, if somewhat shallow bond based on some mutual interests and a generally pessimistic view of life. I know in my heart I will always hate him, at least in part, but that is no longer the dominant paradigm of our interactions. It may seem like that is not much. But it's more than I had before.
Happy Father's Day.