I made the six-hour road trip to say good-bye to a family member and friend who made a positive and lasting impression on my family.
When I arrived at my parent's home, I noticed my dad’s irritability. I hadn’t seen this side of him since he had found his faith and was learning to be at peace with himself and his life, but I found him to be agitated and obsessively concerned about the welfare of my mom.
While my siblings and I chatted in their kitchen, my mom took their Yorkshire Terriers outside to “take care of business.” It was a frigid evening and when my father realized she was outside with the dogs, he shared the creative drama playing out in his head that involved her falling on the ice, hitting her head, and freezing to death in the bitter cold.
I don’t remember if the dogs in his story froze, too, but in the time it took him to swell the story, dress for the outdoors, and head out to investigate, my mother re-entered the house and calmed his fears.
My dad has always had a dramatic flair. Never in my life can I recall him being late. EVER. If he says he’ll be there at six, you can bet he’ll be there at 5:45. As a child, if we went to the theater, my popcorn bucket was empty long before the feature began. If the game started at five, I generally had time to catch a nap on the bleachers while the lights and heat were being turned on.
My father takes great pride in this characteristic and I’ve come to appreciate that his word means something in his world. I have been conditioned to be ready to leave long before it is necessary, particularly when my father is involved in the plan.
When my dad told me we needed to leave by 8:45 to arrive at a funeral scheduled to begin at 10, I made a mental note to be ready by 8:15. Never mind that I thought it was over-kill to leave 85 minutes early for a destination 20 minutes away, but noted my father’s flair for extreme punctuality. As my morning coffee "kicked in," I noted the time on the clock: 8:30. A Catholic mass is not known for being brief so I thought it best to “take care of business” before we left.
At 8:32, my father yelled that it was time to go. I was still “going” and yelled this fact back. At 8:36, my mother hollered that dad was in the car and ready to leave. I washed my hands and moved as quickly as I could. When I got in the car at 8:40, I announced with irritation that I was in the bathroom and it was not yet 8:45. This fact was dismissed as he proceeded to tell me that I should learn to command this function.
For the second time in twenty-four hours, my father had morphed into dramatic mode and elaborated on his ability to poop on demand. Apparently he had acquired this skill when he was an over-the-road truck driver many moons ago. Exasperated, I demanded an explanation about how relevant his skill was as it related to me. Attempting to relate to my father using his trucker terms, I yelled to him that learning to “drop a load” was not genetic and I could hardly believe he thought it appropriate, let alone sane, to be having the conversation on the way to a family funeral.
The argument escalated and by the time we arrived at the funeral home at 9:03, I had been exiled from the vehicle. I was told I would have to find another way home. Happily, I told him. I’d rather walk and freeze in the bitter cold than to get into a car with a crazy person. Apparently the bitter cold that led him to be concerned about my mother didn't apply to this situation.
When my sister arrived, she sensed the tension. I told her about the fight and the crazy man we called father. I’m not proud that I refueled the feud or labeled another human harshly, but I never expected my dad to flip me the the bird at a family funeral.
My jaw dropped and my eyes swelled with tears. I excused myself to a private place where I proceeded to sob like a child. I realized that no matter how old or young, our parents have the ability to impact our hearts in places reserved especially for them. This is both blessing and curse.
On the long drive back to my home state, I thought about the circle of life and how fragile relationships can become when they are misunderstood. I thought about my childhood and questioned what messages my subconscious had locked deep down in my psyche that impacted my personality and belief system. But mostly I thought about the reason I traveled back in the first place -- to mourn the loss of a special family member and grieve with those he left behind. It's an important ritual that binds our tribe.
I think the frailty of life had become evident to my father, particularly with the cumulative losses he and my mom had faced. They've loved and they've lost so many. Their parents were gone and they've moved up the generational ladder to take their place as grandparents.
I forced myself to step into my father's shoes and realized he is the by-product of his parents like I am the by-product of his. I thought about my son and how he was the by-product of those who came before him.
My father and I had that difficult conversation to reconcile and make amends, but the magnitude of that fight and the subsequent lessons about the importance of truly seeking to understand have not left me. I had to unpack and examine my belief systems and in the end concluded that my dad and I are more alike than we are different. We are both stubborn and driven and we both attempt to control our surroundings because it settles our racing brains.
These traits could be perceived as positive or a negative, but the Powerful Perspective is that being aware of what motivates our behaviors, thoughts or feelings is the first step on the road to transformation. Difficult conversations are a part of that important journey.
Think about your childhood family values and how they've shaped your choices.
Have your values changed? If so, what motivated that shift?
Do opposing values trigger you?
Are your choices based in fear, awareness or power (check in with your gut)?
Gratitude and Forgiveness are Powerful Perspectives -- qualities that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.
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