I had my final bust-up with my dad last week. It’s no big deal, which is probably quite sad, though I can’t feel it. In my mind I’d moved on months before.
I had a major argument with him late last year which I wrote about here. As soon as that happened a big part of me shut down. It was one of those moments when you look back over many years and things start to finally make sense. In your mind you re-write history from what you thought – or hoped – to the actual truth of it. When I spoke to him again after that our relationship had been re-wired, at least on my end. I did not speak to him as a son speaking to a father, but rather as man to man. That I spoke to him at all was a testament to my ability to move on – which was not nearly as hard as it might have been.
In the months since I’ve spoken to him every 4-6 weeks on average. For the most part he was what I would call respectfully reserved. He tread carefully, not overstepping the line I had marked, aware that he had deeply offended against me, but unable to make it good. I would lead the conversation, which suited me fine. He is my father, and while I feel no affection for him it’s hard to dismiss the blood tie altogether. This was a relationship I could deal with.
That changed last week. I called up just to update him on a few things. Before long the conversation degenerated into a pattern long familiar from years past. Back then I would patiently respond and rebut, but I’m not the man I was then. Listening to him go on I felt something rise in me.
As a general rule I have little time for anyone who has a negative impact on my life. Life is too short, move along. It’s a bit more complicated when it’s a family member, but only a bit more. More than at any other time of my life I expect support, particularly from a family member. As soon as I heard the same old tropes spew from his mouth I knew it was over. It didn’t matter what I said or did, indeed, who I am is irrelevant to a man who made his mind up about me 30 years ago and can’t budge from that. Enough is enough, that’s it, and so I shut him down quickly, bluntly, telling him to fuck off and hanging up on him.
I’m a little sorry that I feel no sense of loss or remorse after this, but it goes to show how little remained of our relationship. In the scheme of things it’s very sad, and shouldn’t happen, but in the scheme of things there are many sad things that happen. That’s just the way it is, and there comes a time when you have to accept it.
A few months ago I spoke to a therapist about him in passing. I mentioned our argument last year and, at his prompting, related some of the history between us. He was fascinated.
The therapist focused on my relationship with my mother. Growing up I was close to mum, but had a fractious relationship with dad. Without going into detail the therapist hypothesised that my father saw me as a rival for his wife/my mother’s affections. He said this is not uncommon, and is part of the maturing process, but generally what occurs is that the husband will win that unspoken battle, and the son will walk away having learned a valuable lesson. This in general terms is what we know as the Oedipal complex.
It did not work out that way in my family. What’s supposed to happen is that the son – me – is meant to give way before the father, and in so doing begins to identify with him. It’s a battle between the id and the ego, the resolution of which leads to the formation of the super-ego.
In our house I never gave way to my father because the rivalry between us was resolved in my favour when my mum left him, taking me with her (and leaving my sister). A good part of mum’s reason for leaving was because of the way my father treated me.
This was not something I was properly aware of at the time as a 16-year-old kid. In fact I did not feel particularly mis-treated by dad. We certainly had a robust relationship, but – as I have written many times before – I felt that was a part of being an adolescent, which I think is true. The son challenges the father, and the father, being stronger, resists. Less usual was the time he refused to speak to me. One day I cocked a fist at him and he stopped, staring at me with his intense eyes and basically told me that I was invisible to him. For the next 3 months, until mum left him, he neither spoke nor acknowledged me.
In all the years since mum would always make reference to how badly I was treated by him. She suggested that I had blocked things out of my memory. For the most part I laughed it off. It seemed ridiculous, but in light of what I discovered last year, possibly there was more to it than I remembered.
In any case it seems, according to the therapist, the die was cast when my mum left my dad. Instead of losing the battle I was meant to lose, I won. My father, a dominant, alpha male type with a sentimental streak, had lost. This was not what was supposed to happen, and the consequences for both of us were enduring.
In terms of our relationship I was the person who had denied to him what he loved. As he told me last year, he blamed me for their split. In his heart he could not find forgiveness for that, according to the therapist. I was the son who defeated the father, and it was not something he could ever abide.
As for me? I can’t say. The therapist seemed to suggest that the process of losing that battle in adolescence resolves things in the adult – the creation of the super-ego. I did not lose though, so were those things resolved?
I can’t say. I read about it and it makes sense in ways, and leaves me to ponder on how it impacted upon the man I became. I see how cause and effect may be mapped, my rebellious nature say, my innate defiance, my independence and restlessness. That’s not to say there is any connection at all – it just is (if ‘just is’ exists in this world). I feel myself to be a level-headed, well-balanced type, but perhaps the proof is in the pudding.