My father seems to have memory problems. He forgets that his only daughter loves him and means him no harm. And so he writes venomous missives.
The first time this happened, I’d just published “Free Love Ain’t” in a national anthology of essays by folks who’d survived so-called counterculture parents. Back then I read and responded to his poison pen letters and bizarre accusations for months. Finally realizing his contempt was bottomless, and his words were killing me, I returned them to sender. He then sent a registered letter, which a friend of mine read. More of the same, she said, so I burned it.
Hiking through the mountains recently, I noticed that the intensity of his current wrath is similar to that back in 2000. Then a funny thing happened: it dawned on me that it has nothing to do with me. Not one thing. It was a huge relief. I’d heard this theory, of course, and understood it intellectually, but here, on this mountain, on this island in the middle of the Pacific, I comprehended it viscerally. And smiled. I’ve done nothing wrong. I do not deserve his disrespect. I never did.
I’ve heard him talk to himself. His self-loathing rivals my mother’s. I imagine that his thinking is much worse than anything he’s ever said or written to me.
I know I’ve inherited their bad behavior. I, too, have said and done terrible things to those I love. These days I talk to Rage instead of stabbing anyone with it; talk to Grief instead of drowning in alcohol; talk to Terror instead of sprinting down the road. They’ve been highly educational. Best of all? They dissipate after bit, and I am lighter. The tide of Happiness comes in, with waves of Compassion.
I wish him well, I always have. And I wish me well, too.
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