I used to wonder about what the world looked like before I was born. Then again, it wasn’t until I was older that I came to a special realization. I came to notice that there was a time when my parents were young too. There was a time when they didn’t know who I was or what I would look like. Perhaps there was a time when they didn’t know that I would exist and that I would be part of their world. Or, maybe I was unexpected. Maybe I was wanted but at the same time, there was an idea that maybe their life would be easier if I was never born. I say this with the full understanding that at some point in life, parents were human too. I say this with the understanding that regret is felt by everyone, including parents.
I say this because as their children, it would seem that we forget our parents were children once too. It would seem unthinkable that like us, they had doubts and fears. They had a childhood with childhood misunderstandings.
It wasn’t until I was older that I learned to question the lessons I was taught. However, there were times when I was young and moments when I saw the mood swings. I was part of the misunderstandings.
At the same time, I saw this as unthinkable. How could this happen? These are my parents. Moms are not supposed to be wrong and Dads are supposed to know everything. These are the first role models that we have in our life. And at first, I saw things with contempt. At first, I would be angry because as I saw this, parents are not allowed to have flaws.
This is not to say that there are no good memories. No, this would be dishonest and in all honesty, there were good times. There were great times. But there were tough times. There were troubled times and times when people said mean things out of anger.
I have pictures of both my Mother and Father. I have pictures of them from when they were younger and before they met or knew each other. I have pictures from when my Father was young and in the military. I would look at my old black and white photos and wonder about him. I wondered if The Old Man knew what was about to happen. Why did he marry someone else before meeting my Mother. Did he know this marriage would go wrong? Did he know about the fights that would come from this or the pain that would follow?
Did someone tell him, “Don’t do it” or “Don’t go.”
Did someone tell him that this would lead to pain, that he would see something that he’d never heal from, or that he was about to embark on a journey that would end poorly? Did he know this would end messily enough to leave a hole in his heart?
I know that on the day when my Old Man married my Mother, someone called him and said, “I can’t believe that you’re going to go through with this.”
It is amazing to me that people have the ability to be resentful and cruel. People can say mean things. It is helpful, however, to realize that due to the factors in our life and due to our background, we can come to an understanding of how we react.
I am a person who often writes about my family. I write about my Father with heartfelt sentiments; yet, I am also a person who writes honestly about the challenges that made our connection difficult.
There are times that I remember I wish I could have gone back and asked, “Why did you do that,” or “Why would you say something like that?”
Didn’t you realize what would happen?
I never knew my Grandfather on my Father’s side. I only knew that he left Austria when the racial tensions began to build. I know that my Grandmother was younger than him. I know that years later, the people in my family who never left were exterminated in places like Auschwitz and Mauthausen. I know that my Grandparents were from the same town and they never met until they came to this country. Once more I say, I never met my Grandfather. He died before I was born.
My Grandmother passed away when I was 12, which meant that I didn’t know much about her or my Grandfather until I was older.
My Father seldom talked about them. He never told me what it was like to grow up with a strict Father. He never told me that his parents struggled to get along. I never knew about the time when he was quarantined with diphtheria or that my Aunt Sondra had such a high temperature that her eyes crossed and she nearly died.
I didn’t know what it was like to be born out of The Depression in 1929. I didn’t know what it was like for him to be the middle son with my Uncle Alan, his older brother, being so smart and a scholar and my Aunt Sondra, his younger sister, being so smart as well. They both skipped grades because they did well in school. On the other hand, my Father was not a scholar. He was in trouble. He had fights. I’m sure there were problems in school. There is so much that I never knew and so much that had I known, this might have been helpful to me.
I wonder if The Old Man ever thought about the things he didn’t like when he was young. I wonder if there were things my Grandfather did that my Father swore, “I’ll never do that to my son.”
I wonder if, like me, The Old Man wanted to run away, especially more as an adult than he ever did when he was a kid. I wonder if he was human too. Did he know what it was like to lose friends and try to influence people? Did he know what it felt like to be painfully afraid and insecure?
I have pictures of him from when he was young. He is smiling but then again, isn’t this what we tell people to do?
“Smile for the camera!”
If I could say anything to him now, I suppose I would say, “It’s okay.”
I would tell him that I understand more now.
I’d tell him:
You were young once too. You have feelings and memories like everyone else in this world. You have your own pathology (or science) and like me, you had fears. You had insecurities. You had cracks in the facade, which you hoped nobody else would see. You had pains that never went away and like the rest of the world, you had your own personal chemistry.
Sure, you yelled. At the time, I thought this was about me. At the time, I thought your frustrations about me were my fault. But no. This was a projection. This was a reflection of your own struggle. You wanted to fix things but nothing was fixable, at least not in an easy sense.
Like me, you had your own cognitive dissonance. You had your own cognitive traps and thinking errors to contend with. You had your own trauma and moments of emotional despair. And like me, this was your unique battle that no one else felt or knew about.
It’s hard to consider this. It was hard for me to come to this realization but as years passed since your death, I had to come to a personal understanding. I had to improve.
I had to come to a moment of growth and maturity. But more, I had to come to the realization that like me, you had a background. You had your own disadvantages. You needed help too, which is fine, but help is not always available sometimes and other times, help is hard to ask for. I get that now.
I was young when you passed. I was only 17 and at the time, I was struggling with my thoughts about life or death. I was living on a farm. Remember?
After you passed, it was as if I lacked the ability to speak about our challenges. I would never talk about this because I never wanted to be disloyal to your memory. Then one day, I came to the understanding that a son’s love for his Father has nothing to do with our personal faults. I learned that by being honest about our past, I was able to love you more in our future. My hopes are that somehow, you see me in your post life. Hopefully now, you’re proud of what you see.
The day I chose to address the challenges of my mental health is the day that I understood more about the challenges that went on between us. This was how I put the past behind me.
So we could heal . . .