My father and I have never gotten along. It has taken years of friction to really understand the dynamic which the two of us share. You see, the man has always been highly critical of me. If I accomplish anything, I could have always done it better. If I fail it’s because I didn’t try hard enough. In his eyes I am incapable of accomplishing anything of value. At least that is how I’ve always understood it. This treatment did wonders for my self-esteem growing up.
It took an epiphany to not only begin to build confidence in myself but to also understand my father. The man sees himself as worthless. Part of his own self-views stem from an overly abusive father, my grandfather, who believed in extreme discipline.
My grandfather was the abusive type. Perhaps he was angry at a world that took so much away from him and his family during the Depression. The few times that man opened up it was always about how he had to struggle to get by. How he’d dropped out of school at fifteen to support his parents and siblings or the wealth our family once held at the turn of the twentieth century before it was lost in a fire. To him, Life was always taking away what his family had struggled to create. Life was always punishing him, making things hard. So he had to be hard to survive. He tried to instill that into my father and only helped to break him, my father’s soul mending though hideously scarred and emotionally stunted.
My grandmother, his mother, was likewise emotionally distant. She had two daughters from a first marriage who she doted on. I know this has been a major point of anger with my father as he rarely speaks of my two aunts and when he does the words are far from complimentary. What little love was left was spent on my father’s younger brother.
My father was quite secluded from family activities. He became a loner, a vandal, and a constant concern for the city of Yankeetown.
But there is more to his character than what others have done to him. There is also what he has done to himself. He dropped out of high school when he was young, got stuck in a marriage he never wanted by accidentally knocking up my mother, and has failed at job after job while letting opportunities slip through his fingers. For all his bellowing, and the man is a loud mouthed, blustering ass, he tries to conceal the fact that he feels he has wasted his life. He has failed at so much.
All these mistakes, all the conflict he encountered growing up, has left him with little self-esteem. So he demeans those around him in order to lift himself up. Lower those who surround you and ascend due to their decline. Is that progress or regress?
There is more, of course. My father sees himself in us, his kids. He has this belief that we will screw up just like he did. So he not only badgers us to help himself feel better but also, in his own way, drive us on to accomplish something better. The problem is his overbearing style has crushed his childrens’ spirits and driven them away from him.
Now in the twilight of his life, my father is realizing the legacy he has left behind. None of us really want anything to do with the man because, regardless of the way he has started to reach out to us in these later years, my father is still incapable of not making at least one disparaging remark about us.
The man has always been a “right” man, incapable of making the wrong decisions in his own eyes. To believe himself a screw up, to think he let so much slip through his fingers; the man could never fathom that. His fragile ego would shatter if it found the shallow bottom of his redeemable soul. To cover up questions and to achieve his ends he has always relied on the physical because he is too afraid to match wits and come off on the lesser end of any conversation or situation. He is a child who never grew up. It is obvious in his inability to compromise or respect others. He must place everyone beneath him because of his lack of confidence in himself. He has no education, no wealth, no past achievements to be proud of. He can only see the world as looking down upon him, this adolescent incapable of becoming a true man.
So my father has found himself locked in a cycle of extremes. Everything is good or bad, white or black. There is no room for half-measures, no possibility or contemplation and slow integration. To allow a second voice, to take his time, would allow the whispers of doubt to creep into his head undermining his strict rule which he does not believe he deserves. He has to batter down any threat to himself because of the one thing he takes pride in: the physical. Might makes right as every child knows.
Realizing all of this, I cannot hate my father for the abuse he heaped on me as a boy. But I cannot love him either. He pushed me away in order to become a man. In that I believe I have succeeded. I have outgrown him and his hate. I have surpassed him. That is the fate of every son. The only sorrow is in the dark tinge my development has taken