EULOGY FOR MY FATHER
My father passed away at the age of 89 in 2003. My relationship with him was difficult and testy for the 60 years of my life practically to the end of his.
From my earliest recollections, dad was my hero – the person I most admired and, for many years thereafter, the person whose approval I craved and the one I most wanted to please. But unfortunately, his attention, appreciation, approval and affection never seemed to be directed towards me – always towards others, as I saw things.
For a long time I thought it was my fault. Maybe I was failing to live up to his expectations. Maybe I just wasn’t worthy of his love. Many years passed before it began to dawn on me that, perhaps, dad’s reactions to me were not necessarily my problem – but they may have been more his.
You see, despite dad’s long list of good points he was plagued with self-doubts. Dig a bit deeper and you’d find a person who didn’t really appreciate himself - his capabilities, or his worth in general.
There was another side to dad that few people outside his immediate family circle were aware. Whenever his self-doubts and frustration with himself got the better of him, he’d explode into anger and threaten and abuse his nearest and dearest. These outbursts could never be predicted, so we all felt as if we were constantly treading on eggshells.
Maybe I threatened him in some special way, because try as I may – during my formative years especially – despite my over the top attempts to please him, it seemed to me that all I got was his indifference or put-downs.
No, like all of us – despite our attempts to portray ourselves to the world in a better light – my father wasn’t perfect.
Six months before he passed away, when the doctors and the rest of us had yet again written him off when he was desperately ill with blood clots on his lungs and a failing heart – I finally made my peace with dad.
For a long time, I’d carried a heavy load of grievances against him – the big one being “How could you reject your own son?” As I sat on his bed holding his hand, tears rolled down his face as he begged my forgiveness for threatening and abusing Brenda, my wife and me a few years previously.
This was the first time dad had ever apologized to me for anything, as I recall.
I spontaneously forgave him wholeheartedly because somehow I realized he was apologizing for all of his abuse and anger going back to my childhood. I asked for his forgiveness for my long-standing hostility towards him as well. And, of course, he forgave me.
We hugged, cried and held each other for several minutes. We’d never, ever done that before. Somehow I felt certain this was to be our last face to face conversation. And so it turned out to be.
At my father’s funeral I attempted to describe my troubled relationship with him and how we’d finally resolved our differences shortly before he died. Most people there were shocked and maybe, even offended by what I said. The rest of the relatives except for dad’s last surviving sibling – my aunt - gave me the cold shoulder immediately after the funeral, as did most of our family friends, except for an elderly couple who knew my father very well and a lifelong friend of mine whose own father had been an abusive drunk.
I guess we’re all programmed to expect to hear the usual eulogies of high praise at funerals. Perhaps what is said at many funerals reflect the denials and hypocrisy of how many of us live our lives. Maybe the revelations of the other side of my father’s nature so shocked those in attendance they failed to hear the most important thing I was trying to say – that dad and I had resolved our differences before he died and we had finally forgiven each other.
I believe, for most of us, our parents give us the greatest opportunities to learn what we have the potential to become. Sometimes, we can learn from the positive examples they set. Sometimes, we can learn not to duplicate their mistakes if we so choose.
Having been an addictive approval-seeker most of my life, I don’t think too many people could imagine how difficult it was for me to stand in front of all my relatives and family friends and risk their disapproval by speaking my truth that day of the funeral. And yet, when it was over, and despite the general disapproval, somehow it was liberating.
Perhaps, at last, I had come of age?