Dear Dad.

After dinner, as I packed my bag to leave, I said to my Mom, “I’ve been away from it for too long. I’ve grown out of it. I wouldn’t put up with words like that from anyone else and there’s no reason for me to stay here and take it.” I wasn’t really upset, I just knew I had to leave. It was a simple decision and practical, given the situation.

I had stayed at their house for a night or two, in town from Albuquerque. It was 1994 and I’d been two states away for 5 years. That’s a long time to get used to being your own person.

The source of the difficulty, as always, was my Dad. Up to his usual level of liquor consumption – I used to joke about not calling my parents after 7pm because they’d be three sheets to it by then — he said some things about a friend and business associate that have never borne repeating after that night.

He said some things about me as well and, though I’d heard such comments regularly while living under their roof, they no longer fazed me. I had been gone long enough to see him for what he was and all I felt in that moment was pity.

But I knew I had to leave, because things were only going to degenerate from there. If there is one thing I have inherited from my Dad, it is the inability to shut up once I get going.

The following is by Cary Tennis, the advice guy over at Salon. I learned the lessons he imparts for myself but his words sent me back to that night in my parent’s house, packing my bag and suddenly understanding that acceptance, though it isn’t forgiveness, is a first step toward seeing our families for what they really are.

You are fine as you are. I know that. You know that. It’s the truth.

But your family is never going to give you what you want. That’s also the truth.

You will never be at peace with your family until you stop wanting what they will never give you.

It is easy to say, “Accept the way things are.”

But exactly how do we accept things? What is this action called acceptance? I would say that acceptance is knowing rather than wishing. You studied law. You committed many laws to memory. You may wish they were one way but they are the way they are. If you go into the courtroom and expect the laws to be different from the way they are you will not succeed. You must accept that the law is the way it is. You must know the law.

The same is true with your family. You must know your family as it is. You must study your family and know it thoroughly. That is your route to acceptance. Regard your family as a fact, immutable as the law. They are what they are. They behave in a certain way. The facts are unpleasant. But they are facts.

What happens to people who do not like the law and so do not obey it? They get their asses kicked.

You may not like what you know about your family but you must accept it or you will get your ass kicked. You will step into the ring expecting a kiss and get slapped. Don’t do it. Don’t let them kick you around.

You may find it hard to accept your family as it is. There are reasons for that. One reason is that in accepting your family as it is, you have to give up, or mourn, the ideal family that never was. You may have to go through a sort of grieving process. You may have to feel the hurt, the lifelong ache of wanting a family that is loving and kind and supportive and never getting it. It hurts. It hurts a lot. It hurts for a long time. But that is the price of knowing the truth.

I think the truth is worth it.

Here is a consolation: This other family, this ideal, imaginary family that you always wanted, this family that really gets you, that supports you, that appreciates you as you appreciate yourself: It is a real family, too. It is real in your mind. You can keep it, in fact. You can keep this imaginary family in your mind. This dream family is your family, too. It’s the family you deserve. It lives on a different street in a different neighborhood where only you can go.

Here is another consolation. Sometimes if you leave something alone long enough it begins to heal on its own and one day long after you have given up even thinking about it a gift arrives in the mail that is so delightful you break down right there on your doorstep because you had given up all hope of such a thing ever, ever happening.

I’m just saying it’s possible. Maybe one day if you leave this alone it may fix itself. But don’t hold your breath. Let it be.

Your family today is sad and difficult and dangerous. Remember that. Accept it. Don’t give them the opportunity to kick you around anymore.

Get what you need some other way. Get it from people who have it to give.

Away from my family, I surrounded myself with people who were capable of giving the love and acceptance I wanted so much from my Dad. I spent much of my 20’s in anger and resentment over him, then much of my 30’s – especially after my Mom passed away – in complete ambivalence.

About 3 years ago, after some intense soul-searching in my own life, I started to wonder if things could ever be fixed. The feeling intensified about this time last year and I spent some time attempting to discover where my interest in reconciliation came from.

Then it dawned on me that it’s not me or my Dad, it’s Kaelyn. The birth of his granddaughter / my niece kick-started something in both of us and the flood of lost opportunities and regret was – is – staggering. It’s taken me over a year to process it and returning the items I’d taken from him – my grandfather’s instruments and typewriter – was my first real step toward making things right.

Dear Dad:

Don’t beat yourself up over things we can no longer change and I promise to do the same for myself. I don’t hate you, I never did, and that’s a truth that’s been actually very hard for me to face. I can’t say any more than this right now. Maybe there will be more later, maybe not, but the fact that I think about these things at all is good.

Little miracle. Big miracle. May miracles never cease.

2 Responses to “Dear Dad.”

  1. Dad Says:

    I love you Mushy

  2. Dad Says:

    I respect you and love you. I will always take pride in being part of your life. A hug would be nice and if you need help your mother and I will ALWAYS be there. Yes she is still with me. I can set in a room and smell her perfume, a touch on my head and telling me how to cook and not to put the electric skillet into the dish water.

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