Thursday, June 20, 2013

Difficult Conversations

Fr. Dale Matson

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)

I traveled to Kentucky recently for the baptism of my newest grandson.  Unlike my father who refused to discuss uncomfortable things with his sons, I took the bull by the horns and used the opportunity to try and clarify the past. The three of us were seated in a hamburger shop for a meal prior to attending the new Superman movie.  My younger son stated, “Dad I’m a control freak. That is what comes from being raised in chaos.” After a few moments to catch my breath and reflect, I said defensively. “Could it have been worse?” He replied, “Yes, we could have been physically abused.” Somehow, I wasn't comforted. My older son looked uncomfortable as if he had an acute and sudden onset of indigestion. The conversation would not be on a safe topic. He would rather have been waxing eloquent on the NBA final series between the Spurs and the Heat.  “Dale, you could have done more things with me. You could have taught me more things. It was always tense and harsh at home.” He sometimes calls me dad but ten years or so ago he began calling me by my first name. It grates on me but there is not much I can say that hasn't come across as critical. It would just be one more criticism in a lifetime litany of criticisms.

Developmental psychologists talk about differing parenting styles but each child is different from the other. Each child requires a different parenting approach. As their father I adopted a father role in reaction to my father. I was critical of my father and used him as a negative role model. It was a big mistake. That approach yielded a man just as flawed and distorted as my father. He was uninvolved and emotionally distant. I was overinvolved, harsh and punitive. My father was ashamed of me because I was emotional and I was ashamed of my sons because they were not emotional. There did not seem to be a fire in the belly.

I have asked for their forgiveness more than once and depending on their moods, I have been absolved or sent back to purgatory. I think how long it took for me to forgive my father. I do remember telling him on the phone that I loved him and his response was, “You’re not going to kill yourself are you?” He wrote two letters to me at my insistence and the first was signed, “Yours Truly.” The second was signed ‘Love”. It is hard for a man to say to his sons that he loves them. It was even harder for his generation. At about age fifty I chose to love him too. It unlocked a lot of good memories held captive by anger. He has passed on and all that is left are the good memories of my father.

It has been difficult and painful as God has reminded me gradually of my failures to love my sons for who they were and my stubborn unwillingness to honor their life choices. That was how my dad was with me too. I was never able to measure up in his eyes and eventually stopped trying to please him or be him. That does not mean that I don’t look for “atta boys” from others to this day. It is hard to hear it when my older son says, “You think you've changed but you’re still the same.” If only he meant it in a good way.

Toward the end of his life, I was a good parent to an aging and feeble father. I was sometimes impatient with his denial of his life destroying cancer. I believe and hope my sons will come to a peace about me and it will free up good memories for them too. They will laugh about how hard I made them work just as my brother and I laugh when we tell once again, the war stories of our youth.  They are good and honorable men. I love them and tell them so.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) 


The Underground Pewster said...

Sometimes kids make us feel like we are the prodigal parent. Those are times for self reflection. Should we ask their forgiveness for mistakes made when trying to raise them right? Maybe, but not when those things they feel were mistakes can equally be seen as having been the right things for them at the time.

Dale Matson said...

All of the guilt I experience as a parent was well deserved.