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Archive for January, 2011

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The sins of our Fathers

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Recently I had the experience of spending 3 weeks on a vacation road trip with my mother – in my best recollections I think this was the most time we have ever spent in each other’s company since I left the womb. Was it a great, enlightening and joyful bonding experience? Not really but it definitely was educational and it left me pondering a cultural psychiatric joke, “It’s always the Mother’s fault!” I always laughed at this thinking and living by the motto that we are not responsible for what happens to us as children but we are responsible for how we let it effect us as adults but now I am wondering – how much responsibility can we really assume and how much blame can be placed on those that raised us?

I am not talking nature versus nurture, I am talking strictly nurture here so by the terms mother, father and parent I am referring to any and all possible childhood caregivers – those that instilled in us by intent or example, our values, morals and behaviors. These are the people that we learned from – some we learned who and what we wanted to be, others we learned who and what we didn’t want to be and from all we learned coping behaviors, habits and attitudes towards life that may or may not have positive influences on us as adults.

It has never been a secret to anyone and I have certainly never been shy about sharing my history and maladjusted youth with anyone who asks but I have always been very, very careful to assume the responsibility for my choices, behaviors and consequences squarely on my own shoulders saying that my parents did the best that they could with the tools they had at the time and resolving them from responsibility but now I am beginning to question that logic. Did they really? We all want to believe that our parents love us unconditionally, that even though they may not be perfect that when the chips fell and we needed them that they would be there, that they would risk life and limb for our protection and wish us nothing but happiness and a better life than they had. We all have that desire to believe that behind whatever mask they wear, our parents are June and Ward Cleaver underneath and deep down they believe we hung the moon. I certainly feel that way about my children but I am beginning to believe that some do what they do because they don’t know any better and would improve if only they knew how and then others just don’t give a damn – biology or not.

Think of all of the things that our parents teach us, I mean beyond how to ride a bike and throw a ball? Most of the things we learn comes from watching them not by them actively teaching. As we get older and lose a parent or see our parents age, we begin to see them in a different light – perhaps we feel obligated to protect them or care for them as they become more and more vulnerable as they get older and perhaps ill. Maybe after death we don’t want to speak ill or soil the positive memories with the bad ones or we feel guilty or ashamed even having those thoughts and memories because we were taught to honor our mother and father, to respect our elders and to believe that above all else, daddy knows best. Whatever the reason, I think that many of us – well at least me – have let my parents off the hook for far too much and assumed more of the burden and responsibility for the past than I ever should have had to. Forgiveness is one thing. Acceptance is another – but refusal to acknowledge or willful ignorance, well those are other things all together and I don’t believe that either is healthy – at least that is the realization I am coming to.

How many of us have unresolved issues with our parents? Things that we wish we could have, should have or had the strength to say? How many of us cringe when we find out mom and/or dad are coming for a visit? How many of us revert to behaving like rebellious teens when in their company? I used to think that this was just the way things were supposed to be and perhaps for the majority it works but after 3 weeks of close quarters, it is hard to hide behind a mask of social acceptability and willfull blindness to those behaviors – I am sure it runs both ways and in 20 years my children will probably say the same thing about me but it is my goal that their issues will be far less hurtful and the pain will run much less deep. I pray that their issues have to do with constant nagging over keeping their room clean, their choice of hairstyles and my reaction to them smashing my car – these issues we can hash out in 30 years and have that enlightened bonding experience some can only dream of. Some, like me.

How do you address those things you learned that have caused pain, anguish and hardship? How do you explain and try to gain understanding or have them understand their effect on you without everything dissolving into a ‘It’s always the Mother’s fault!’ scenario? how do you walk away when you realize that they don’t care what their past and current behavior did or continues to do to you? How do you make someone care? Is it even worth the pain, energy and turmoil to continue to try? When you are linked through a parental bond is there any cosmic law that says you HAVE to be a part of their lives, that you as a child cannot just wash your hands of them and begin again on your own vowing to be a better parent? Is it possible that the only meaning they were ever supposed to have in your life – the only lesson they were even destined to teach was to show you how not to be? I wish I knew the answers to these questions. I wish I knew where the responsibility of a child ends or if it was ever supposed to begin in the first place.

When should we forgive the sins of our Fathers? When should we forget? When should we absolve and when should we just walk away? If we have toxic friendships, a sibling or cousin who continually hurt us in the past or even continues to do it in the present we all know we need to cut them from our life like an infected abscess but what happens when that toxic influence is a parent? Do our responsibilities then change? Are we continually obligated to support, care for and assist them in their old age even if they did little for us in our youth and continue to infect our present? Do we owe them unconditional respect, protection and love or are parents just like everyone else and only deserving of what they earn and reciprocate?

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