By Curtis Thompson
When it comes to my father, I have regrets. I wasted so much time. I hurt him in ways I cannot take back. I allowed my ex-wife to separate me from my family, and consequently, my children from their grandfather.
When I was young, both my parents worked, of economic necessity. I spent my time primarily with women – my maternal great grandmother, my grandmother, and to a lesser extent, my grandfather. I was about twelve when my grandmother and great grandmother passed in a very short period of time. The family seemed to crumble. My mother was devastated and my father, in his own quiet and kind way, supported her in her grief, but otherwise everyone dealt with their pain in isolation.
My only sibling was four at the time. I felt alone. I felt angry. I look back now and see this was the beginning of self-destructive behaviours that showed up in later years.
Just before my grandmother passed, our financial circumstances improved dramatically. So we moved to a more well-heeled location, we joined the swankiest private club around town, we traveled internationally, and I attended a good Catholic school. Of course this all required money, although as children, we’re oblivious to what things cost.
My father had always worked extremely hard. When I was very young, I suffered an illness that required medical care that my parents could ill afford. There was no insurance, but to pay the bills, both parents worked harder. Declaring bankruptcy was out of the question.
In this environment in which hard work was the norm, I wanted what was missing – my parents’ time and their approval. As the years passed, I wanted more: approval, achievement, and if possible, perfection. I pushed myself to accomplish a great deal that society views as success. And then I became involved with the woman I would eventually marry. She was the catalyst for my close call with self-destruction.
During the years in which my marriage faltered, my father was there for me – quiet and kind, understanding and patient. It must have been difficult for him to witness me succeeding in some aspects of my life and slowly destroying myself at the same time. I was a workaholic, I slept little, I was overweight. My father did not criticize though I know he was concerned. He believed I would resolve the issues I was dealing with, and come to my own assistance.
When I was young, I often made the value judgment that my father’s kindness was weakness. He was always willing to help family and friends – financially, through his own sweat, providing moral support, or welcoming others into our home. At the time and for years afterward, I took what he did for granted. My own path was more along the lines of the Gordon Gecko formula of success. I was driven by my personal demons and encouraged by my now ex-wife. People in the world I inhabited believed that lunch was for wimps, sleep was for when you were dead, and in their place – seek, plan, focus, work, achieve – then move on to the next goal.
While I was generally kind to others, I wasn’t kind to myself. My priorities were askew. I realize now I was driven by anger, still seeking approval, and still operating with a certain degree of self-destructive behaviour.
From the outside looking in, I was a success story. From the inside looking out, things were very different.
When I wasn’t working, I was with my children. I’m glad that I spent this time, but I should have done more. My ex-wife rarely spent time with us as a family, and people commented throughout the marriage. My response was always the same. To excuse her. In loving her, I excused too much. I mistakenly attributed behaviour to her childhood, which was marked by hurt and issues with addiction.
I was living in denial.
By my late thirties, I had chosen to give up the professional and financial holy grail, but to focus more on my family instead. I moved us to Canada, where my children would have grandparents. I wanted their involvement and influence in my daughters’ lives. For myself, I was hoping to refocus on what was important in life. I began expanding my reading – beyond professional sources. I read books on spirituality, books on personal development. But my wife was content with the way things had been – husband as super achiever, able to provide a certain lifestyle.
I had taken a job that would require fewer hours so I might focus on family, but she encouraged me to pursue more lucrative positions with longer hours.
I said no.
When it was clear there would be no more money for the material comforts she wanted, it wasn’t long before my wife was in the process of becoming my ex.
For 20 years, my sleep had suffered, I was overweight, smoking was my norm as was living with incredible stress. As I began to understand the full extent of my ex-wife’s choices and the trickle-down effect on my health, I began to put myself back together – getting in better shape physically, mentally, and spiritually. More importantly, today, I am focused on what truly matters.
Throughout these transitions, my father has provided emotional support – quietly, kindly, and without judgment. Even when I did things that hurt him, he never wavered. He stood by me. His actions speak louder than words, and I finally understand this on an emotional as well as intellectual level. His model of support has been constant, and the greatest gift of all, his kindness.
I have come to realize that kindness is perhaps the most underrated, uncommon, and unattainable trait in contemporary society. It should not be wasted on those who seek advantage (and will abuse it); it needs to be informed. My father’s kindness is a trait that I greatly admire.
I also realize that while kindness is seen by some as weakness, it is truly the ultimate strength. Kindness enables us to give unselfishly, without expectations, to assist another person. There may be a cost in terms of vulnerability, but what I’ve learned about myself – in part because of my father – is that while I aspired to be Gordon Gecko, I was really Bud Fox.
One of my great fears is that I have failed to instill enough kindness in my children. I hope my fear is ungrounded. I hope they have learned from watching me and listening to me, and that they possess a genetic predisposition from their grandfather.
My dad is older now. He suffers a slow moving chronic disease, and it will probably kill him. Seeing him this way hurts me as I remember the former farm boy, the professional, the man in his prime who was active, fit, and youthful. I am trying to make up for lost time. I want to make up for the pain that I caused. And I want to know him better as an adult.
These days, people typically consider me one of the “good guys.” It’s the way they see my father. And it makes me proud. I want my actions to speak louder than my words, as his always have.
© Curtis Thompson
Curtis Thompson is a professional, a world traveler, a student of the human condition, a former navel gazer, and now resides in Canada.
Part 3 in a series on father-son relationships.
Stop by and visit the series on mother-daughter relationships.
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