Friday, August 25, 2006

Great Irony

My father’s life was fueled by extremes of every kind, and they eventually caught up with him and did him in. But before coming to such an inglorious end, he was also a father and husband. As a daughter of his, I was the one of whom everyone always said “you’re just like your father.” This was from the time I was very young until he died…”you’re just like your father.” From people who knew us well and people who hardly knew us at all.

And yet, his presence, fueled by these extremes of personality and behavior, was something I grew to hate. The older I got, the more completely I rejected him and any place he might have in my life. The turmoil and suffering he left in his wake was too overwhelming, too complicated, and I too easily absorbed the confusion. Out of some sheer protective mechanism, I squeezed out any space I had for him in my heart.

I’m not saying he didn’t love me, and deeply. Just that at some point, on some level, I realized I couldn’t let in even a little of his energy into my life without it creating awful pain.

He’s been gone for almost 17 years now, and I’m still sorting this through. And I’m wondering what it means to so fundamentally reject someone in who resides a mirror of so much of yourself. What happens when “you’re just like” this person who you find so unacceptable in every way? What is the price of choosing between yourself and the person “you’re just like?”

And what do you do every time you see an impulse, a trait, a tendency, a habit, a quality that maybe isn’t “just like” him, but even a little like him? But you don’t know how it will take a hold in your own life and maybe grow into something horrifying there. It requires numbing amounts of much judging and weighing, accepting and rejecting ~ too much vigilance over the self and others.

This kind of mental and emotional parsing creates an illusion of control, an illusion of safety, an illusion of protection. You can’t neatly tuck away relationships in some small corner of your heart or mind, as if they belong to you alone, even with someone who’s been dead for 17 years. ‘Cause the ghosts that live on, live on in you anyway.

I’ve built all sorts of artificial constructs to support certain ideas I have about my father, our relationship, and who I am, and none of it is fitting very well anymore. And as it changes, it’s changing my relationship with others who also accepted these artificial constructs as reality. So my looking at all this with new eyes is causing quite a lot of turmoil. Which makes me in some ways, quite ironically, just like my father.

It's all part of an old story, handed down to me but that doesn’t belong to me. And I can’t re-write it for anyone else. But I’m re-writing the story for myself, re-thinking the characters, re-framing what I know and what I do with my new understanding. And I’m really enjoying the creative engagement it requires. Finally, a chance to tell this sory my way.

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