I had a vexed relationship with my Dad. I mean, I liked him a lot – he was a really nice guy, but I never really respected him.
I would always have denied that – in fact, I did. I recall visiting the counselling service at University to see if I could get into an assertiveness training course. I got into a conversation with this counsellor about my career aspirations and I said that I didn’t want to end up stuck in a dead-end job like my dad.
“I think you actually despise your father”, she said.
I was outraged… this person I’d met five minutes earlier had the gall to allege that I had such strong feelings that I couldn’t even acknowledge myself? Crazy.
The thing was, over the next few years, I started to realise she was right. Dad kept this job as a clerk for nearly 30 years which he pretty much hated. It made him depressed, the boss drove him nuts. As far as I could tell, he never left because he was scared. For someone of my generation, betraying your own needs like my dad did was an act of staggering cowardice.
Then, after ten years of struggling with Parkinson’s disease, Dad died. I took the job of writing his eulogy. What that really meant was that I took on the even bigger job of trying to understand the whole picture of Dad’s life. Unless I could find a way to understand and respect the decisions he made, I couldn’t stand up in front of a church full of people (and it was full) and speak about his life…
So, I called my uncles who’d known dad since they were all teenagers living in the old neighbourhood. I talked to Mum and my sister. I spoke to his sisters.
After all that I realised, I’d failed to understand the world Dad lived in. For a man of Dad’s generation, the most important thing was to look after your family – he could never bring himself to risk that just to be happy.
Suddenly, after all that, Dad’s life seemed… brave, not cowardly. His decisions resonated with the principles and compassion that seemed so evident when he spoke about life.
Finally, I didn’t just like my Dad, I respected him…