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Tony Grist

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After The Funeral [Sep. 15th, 2004|09:19 am]
Tony Grist
My father died at the back end of last year. We've had time to grieve and now it seems like we're all beginning to remember what a gruesome old sod he was. I spent all my adult life disliking him and keeping as far away from him as I could, then, just at the end, as if we'd seen a warning flare go up, we made a special effort and had two or three good hours together. After the funeral it seemed like those two or three good hours had cancelled out all that went before, but of course they hadn't.

He was "disappointed" in me. That's what I've recently heard. I knew it in my bones (of course) but it was a shock to be told it. In the rare times when we were together the disappointment hung in the air like fog, but it was never spoken. I used always to get migraines when I visited him.

So what were you disappointed in, Dad? What exactly? And when did you decide that I was so disappointing? When I was 35? 25? 15? 5? I've really no means of telling because I don't ever remember a time when you acted like you enjoyed having me around.

Forgiveness? I don't understand what that word means. You were the way you were. You cast a blight over my life and many other lives. And nothing I do or say now can change it.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: tamnonlinear
2004-09-15 03:55 am (UTC)
*sigh*

I'm sorry. My Mum has that sort of odd relationship with her mother. Nanna is a crazy old bat and there's no love between her and her grandchildren (partly because there is, thankfully, the better part of the world between us, but mostly because she's a unkind and stubborn old bigot), but Mum keeps up the conversation with her out of obligation and some remaining love. Nanna never was ovely generous with praise or encouragment in any form, or any undue softness.

I love my mother a great deal. I don't understand how someone so wonderful can come from such an unkind parent. I don't know how Nanna could be aything other than loving or praising for someone who has done so much, but she never has.

The worst part is the guilt my Mum feels over not loving her mother more. I hate that my Mum should feel bad about that; Nanna isn't loving, it isn't in her nature, but Mum will probably always think that she could have been a 'better' daughter.

Is it horrible of me to say that I hope Nanna isn't around too much longer? I want my Mum to be free of the weight of the obligation, the
guilt, everything else.

Anyway, I don't mean to take over your insights with my own worries, but this is to say that I've seen in my own family how much that can hurt a person, but it isn't really about that person. Nanna's unloving nature is very much her own problem, not my Mums. Nor was your father's about you. They don't see any further than themselves, people like that.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 06:09 am (UTC)
I tell myself that my father was disfunctional- that he was screwed up inside and crippled with anxiety and that this was probably his parents' fault. "Man hands on misery to man". But he could have chosen to break the cycle- to take notice of the people around him. Having a tough break as a kid doesn't give you carte blanche to swan through life being an asshole

Children are so eager to please the adults in their lives. It takes so little effort on the part of the adult to make the child adore him/her. But people like my Father and your Nanna are so wrapped up in themselves that they can't offer even the slightest gesture- the mildest show of interest, the cheapest word of praise.

I think those mid-twentieth century generations (those that came of age in the 40's and '50s) suffer from emotional handicap. It's certainly true in Britain- possibly true in the States as well. Those were lean times; first the depression, then the war, then the effort to forget the war. I think it left a whole lot of people unable to speak or show what they felt, or even to acknowledge that they had feelings at all.
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[User Picture]From: tamnonlinear
2004-09-15 07:24 am (UTC)
Yes, Nanna is of that generation. Everything pared down as bare as possible, nothing unnecessary, don't have anything extra, don't trust if you can help it. Sadly, she included her children in this, so emotions and approval were held so tightly you'd think they were a limited quantity, you had to see if it was too great a risk to give them out, and it was a failure if you didn't get the return you expected in your children. As if all the world was a matter of your personal 'investment' and anything that didn't give back what you expected was a personal betrayal. My mother grew up in a house were approval was given so little that she still doubts she deserves it, even when she gets it. Not that she talks about it like that, but it's easy enough to hear when she talks to her mother, and hering that Nanna still never asks about anyone else or listens when information is offered.

(for reference, my Mum is a very strong woman, she's acheived a tremendous and admirable amount, and she's someone whose judgment and insight I value greatly. Mum deserves a lot of praise.)

I don't know if there's a way to make sense of it. The only advice I can give my Mum when she's having these sorts of worries (usually right before or after a visit or phone call) is that Nanna has the right, screwed up as it is, to define her life the way she wants to, but that same freedom extends to us as well, and she doesn't get to define us. It's about boundires, which is one of the things that parents are so very good at fucking up.

As I'v heard it said, your family is usually great at pushing your buttons because they're the ones who installed them in the first place.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 08:22 am (UTC)
I'm hoping I've achieved something by writing this post. I was feeling blocked- like I had nothing to say- but I've been in that position often enough to know that it means I'm suppressing something. So I dug around a bit and these feelings about my father are what I found.

This afternoon I've been walking around telling myself- hey, he's not around any more. He doesn't exist any more. He's gone. And I've celebrated (cruel word, but it's what I feel) by taking down two pictures of him I've had on display and putting them away in the family photograph box.

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[User Picture]From: tamnonlinear
2004-09-15 08:36 am (UTC)
I don't think it's cruel. He's not around anymore to be hurt by it, and it helps you. Sounds like a good deal to me.

i hope it helps too.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 08:39 am (UTC)
Thanks. It's been an emotionally gruelling day, but I'm feeling quite cheerful now. :)
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-09-15 04:57 am (UTC)
Forgiveness? I don't understand what that word means. You were the way you were. You cast a blight over my life and many other lives. And nothing I do or say now can change it.

(I expect no one would have met his expectations.)

This is so sad, because the reverse is (expounding the obvious) equally true: He also disappointed you.

The pain of never speaking about true things in a relationship is one of the worst, IMHO.

My father never said he was disappointed in me, but whenever I think about him, I wish I could have been a delight to him, at least once, after I was a child. We never spoke about our feelings, ever. That was reserved for my mother and my brother and sisters.

I wish I could have hugged my father or teased him or told him that I loved him. Instead, we exchanged pleasantries. For so long, I thought it was my fault, but now I'm older than he was when we were having our careful relationship, and I can see that he disappointed me, too.

Finally, there's no blame, just sorrow for the loss of a possibility.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 06:15 am (UTC)
I think it was something to do with that generation. They'd been through hard times and a lot of them responded by shutting off their feelings. You and I grew up in the 50s- which has to have been the most inhibited, buttoned up, hypocritical decade since Queen Victoria fell off her perch.

Yes, I am disappointed in my father. He wasn't a bad man. He had a mischievous, fun-loving streak. His friends saw it, but I never did, nor did my children. My daughter was telling me on the phone t'other day how she had been down to see him not long before his death and he reduced her to tears with his snippy and inappropriate remarks. I think I find that harder to forgive than anything he did to me.
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[User Picture]From: mtl
2004-09-15 05:34 am (UTC)

I am sorry

that he ended his life this way and disappointed you!

I do not want to be this way with my family, that is why I am glad I reuntired with my mother.

Forgiveness is not easy to live.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 06:18 am (UTC)

Re: I am sorry

Like I said, I don't think I know how to forgive or what exactly forgiveness would mean. The nearest I can come to it is to try to understand the forces that made my father the way he was.
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[User Picture]From: mtl
2004-09-15 06:34 am (UTC)

Re: I am sorry

What more can you do?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 06:44 am (UTC)

Re: I am sorry

No, that's probably it. I'm probably doing all that I can.

Thanks. You're a very kind and understanding person.
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From: morrison_maiden
2004-09-15 08:05 am (UTC)
Wow, I'm so sorry your father was like that to you. I guess trying to understand why he was that way is the best/only closure you can find at the moment. It's hard to try to figure things out after the person's death, but I hope it will give you some relief. Is your mother still alive?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 08:31 am (UTC)
Thanks. Talking/writing about it helps.

Yes, my mother's still around- and she's had a new lease of life. The two of them were very close and we always thought that if one went the other would follow shortly after. But not a bit of it. She's the merry widow. It's as if she's making up for all the years when she smothered her natural bounciness in order to walk at his pace.

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From: morrison_maiden
2004-09-15 09:17 am (UTC)
Well, without sounding too sadistic, I'm glad for her sake. My great aunt is living in a similar way. Her husband abused her and when he died, she felt sort of liberated. I guess it sounds rather perverse but I know she felt trapped with him. I'm glad that she's been able to turn around :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 09:31 am (UTC)
If you had asked my mother if she felt oppressed by my father I expect she would have said "no". I've no doubt she loved him very much. But he held her back and stifled her natural feelings- not because he was a brute, but because he was so needy. Protecting him from the world (even from his own children) was a full time job and left her with precious little time or energy for anything else.
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From: amritarosa
2004-09-15 10:36 am (UTC)
It's really sad that in many cases out parents' concern for us in our adult lives doesn't mainly consist of:
Are you well?
Are you happy with your life?
Are things ok between you & I?

Much respect from me for being truthful and string about it.
I am sorry it hurts so.
But I am most sorry that it's not uncommon.


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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-15 11:34 am (UTC)
I think the family is a greatly over-rated institution. In my skewed experience (I guess I tend to mix with outsiders like myself) it's a cockpit of abuse. When politicians bang on about the family and family values I look about me for something to throw.
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