This week, I have invited one of our regular blog readers to share a mini-memoir. Here are Richard’s reflections on his relationship with his father:
One of the fortunate things about getting older is that it affords one the opportunity for more experiences in life. What we sometimes call ‘maturity,’ allows you to modify your perspective on significant relationships.
My memories of my Dad from my teen years were dominated by fear and/or anger. He had been a controlling, domineering, critical, and at times harsh parent during my childhood. On a few occasions when he lost his temper, he behaved in ways people would now call ‘abusive.’ Rather than being rebellious like my older brother, I adapted by becoming a generally ‘well behaved’ child. Being almost ‘invisible’ at home meant that I at least felt safe. Of course, it also meant that I rarely, if ever, felt loved by him. I didn’t develop the self-confidence that a young adult needs to make his way out into the world with relative ease.
As a young married man in my mid 20’s I was grateful for the support and encouragement my father had given me in my efforts to become a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. Then I was even more appreciative of the open arms with which he welcomed my wife into our life as a family. Since my wife is from a different race and culture, this meant my Dad had to be flexible about his very strong identification with his Jewish heritage. Furthermore, he insisted that his parents, Eastern European immigrants who were even more rigidly identified with their background, ‘give her a chance’ before deciding whether they would accept her or not. His support and her inherent genuineness and lovability meant that she soon won their acceptance and affection.
As a young father in my late 20’s and early 30’s I marveled at the adoration, playfulness, and pure joy with which he moved into his role as ‘Papa’ with our daughter. Once the responsibilities of the raising of a child were gone, he could relax and simply enjoy being with her. Encouraging her to learn and to solve problems as they arose in life, he enhanced her self esteem. For that both my daugher and we as her parents, have been eternally grateful. He still treated my mother badly at times and teased me too much now and then. And by my later 30’s, with my own burgeoning sense of self-confidence and with my wife showing me the way, I began ‘to give it back to him as good as I got it.’ Although I still shared very little of my inner life with him, at least I had discovered that he was not ‘as scary’ as I had always thought.
Time afforded me the opportunity to gain new perspectives on my Dad and to make changes in my relationship with him. Now as a grandparent myself I find myself using him and my Mom as examples of how to play that role successfully. What satisfaction that has brought me!!
He was far from a ‘perfect father’– if there is any such thing. In fact, he left me with some challenging issues I had to work through over the course of my life. But I was able to forgive him for that, and to feel much appreciation for all that he did give me. In some important ways it was a lasting legacy for which I am very grateful.
How have you been able to gain more perspective on your parent(s) as you have gone through life? We welcome guest post or comments of about 500 words (or less) that reflect on the theme of legacy, memory and memoir.