For several years, as I tried to cut the apron strings, I sought to have a conversation with my Mom. It was my desire to identify the elephant in the room. Unfortunately for her, the terror of this prospect was too large and she went to her grave without experiencing the freedom of truth. It was unfortunate for me too, as she missed a great opportunity to help her first-born son move out of the generational curses of dysfunction.
I forgave her long ago, but I would have liked to better understand where that pain came from and why it was passed on to me. Most of my attempts to resolve these issues resulted in tears, shouting, yelling, and more tears. I would then go lick my wounds in the pit of the addiction du jour. There was even a time of silence that lasted almost a year, while I waited for her to listen (“just listen!” to me. I now realize the pain was too great for her to bear.
Last year, I made an attempt to have a similar conversation with my Dad. With my Mom now gone, I realized that there were issues with my Dad, but they had always been overshadowed by my Mom’s need to control and manipulate my destiny. So, knowing that any conversation that doesn’t involved heavy equipment or baseball is difficult with my Dad, I wrote him this letter (slightly modified to prevent TMI). Take a moment to look at the letter, then come back here (I’ll wait).
My Mom’s exposure of my Dad’s affairs was an misconceived attempt to score points in the “who’s the favored parent” game. It actually backfired on her, like many of her attempts to control and manipulate. However, it did shed some light on the whole “why didn’t my parents divorce” scenario. This is why I wrote the linked letter to my Dad. I needed to get to the heart of the matter.
Typically, my Dad was evasive and defensive with his tools of choice: denial and subterfuge. But, I’d been doing my own research and as I revealed information, he became more forthright – but in hindsight, I now know that he only revealed what he thought I already knew – which wasn’t much.
In a conversation with my aunt, one of my Mom’s sisters, she had indicated that my Dad had done something – so, I asked him about it. He told me that he’d kissed her once, when he’d been drinking, but it didn’t mean anything. Really.
So, my Dad and I finished our conversation last Spring and I moved on. I was secure in the knowledge that I didn’t know anything more than when I went into the conversation. I rested assuredly on the premise that my Dad couldn’t tell the truth if it bit him. I hung my head in sorrow, realizing that I have committed many of the same sins of my father, and I too live in a state of denial and subterfuge. I forgave him and decided that the truth wasn’t so important that I had to force my Dad to tell it. Besides, I’m not even sure I could pull off that waterboarding gig.
Then, just the other day, I received a call from the aunt mentioned above. She said she got a letter from my Dad asking for his forgiveness. He said that I had mentioned something when we talked (over a year ago), and he couldn’t remember doing anythng, but if she did, would she tell him what it is and forgive him? What?!
Yeah, that’s right. He admitted to me that he’d done something, but now he was telling my aunt that he couldn’t remember what he did (“I was doing a lot of drinking back then.”), but he’d like her to forgive him nonetheless. Granted, this all took place almost 50 years ago – and it turns into a big “he said, she said” controversy.
Anyway, my aunt finally blurted out that my Dad did more than kiss. She was in her early teens she said, babysitting me while my Mom was away. He wasn’t drinking and “it wasn’t intercourse.”
Well now, isn’t that special. My Dad did something between a kiss and intercourse with my very young (at the time) aunt. Sheesh. I’ve heard enough!
So, why am I venting all of this?
- Always tell the truth. Living a life of integrity will benefit everyone around you – especially your kids. Your secrets will find you out. And, there’s no such thing as a secret.
- Don’t lie to your kids. As a parent, knowing what I know now, I firmly believe it is wrong to lie to your own kids to cover your own butt. Looking back on my attempts to get the truth out of both of my parents, I now realize their fear stood in the way of healing. That missed opportunity led me to act out many of the same social, sexual, and substance abuse scenarios my Dad did. Though those days are over, he could have helped to prevent them by being more forthright with the teenage me.
- Deal with your issues. Sure, we’ve all made mistakes. One of the best ways to avoid the pain of those mistakes is to sweep them under the rug and deny they ever happened. Another way is to take a searching and fearless moral inventory, then make amends where possible. But probably the best thing to do is to take the pain and grief from the past, and help others to avoid it – especially your children!
The purpose of this post is not to disparage my parents in anyway. If you knew more about the poverty and dysfunction of their own immediate families, you’d have pity and respect for how far they’ve come. In fact, each of them, separate and together, were able to overcome great pain, hardship, and abuse. I’m quite proud of my parents. They were amazing people.
I just wish they could have been a little less selfish about protecting themselves and sought to help me better understand the insanity that eventually I allowed to drive me into alcoholism, drug addiction, and sexually acting out.
Now, I/we have a little less than a decade to figure out how to share my/our story with my/our kids and to help them stand on the foundation of my/our shoulders – to achieve what I wasn’t able to – that is to avoid the pain in my heart.