My father certainly wasn’t somebody that deserved such a title. This story is about one of the extended evening meals that invariably lasted until bedtime, a long time ago in Paris. Meals that were always enlightening in some small way, that changed me.
We would always follow the evening meal with a selection of cheeses and then dessert. My father would then light up a cigarette and sup his wine. I would sit secretly observing his every move. Sometimes he wouldn’t stop talking about zen, Maggie Thatcher’s terrible Falklands war, past relationships, my mother, never his mother ( she died giving birth), the right-wing, the left-wing and so on and on and on. Sometimes he would be deathly silent, even closing his eyes in silent meditation. Something, at 13 years of age, that I just did not get. I would sit there staring at him in total awe and fascination. I would never get up from the table as my need to be near my father was verging on the obsessive.
One time as I sat there he opened his eyes and said, ‘My Dad was a bastard’, his voice accentuating the word ‘bastard’ explosively. Then he closed his eyes again and I sat there completely shocked that he could still feel that strongly about his Dad, dead for some ten years or so. I saw for the first time where his pain came from. The constant loss of temper. The projected anger, the extreme views, the troubled relationships, the endless struggles with life. There, in that post dining state, with the empty plates still spread out on the wooden table, I had my first epiphany. It was the realisation that my father’s life had been so etched out on the basis of those raw, cutting, excessive emotions. It was at that moment that I decided to forgive my father for everything he had and hadn’t done for me as my father. Not only did I forgive him, I understood him completely. Compassion and genuine love grew out of that simple moment. Before there had been an obsession, now there was a relationship on an equal footing. I could relate to the way he felt. A few days later, one afternoon, the conversation came back to that moment and he openly acknowledged that I might feel the same way about him. We joked about my autobiography being called, ‘My Dad was a bastard’. There was a sudden camaraderie between us that had been absent before. On a trip through to Ibiza, driving down from Paris, I noticed my father being all serious and authoritarian, basically uptight. When I mentioned to him that I thought this was a way of hiding his feelings he roared with laughter! And agreed. It felt like we had connected in a way that could never have happened without that moment of pain he had expressed that night after dinner. Now, of course, we still had some times where things were strained and the usual disagreements, but it was different.
And so to the moral of this story, as a therapist, I have treated so many people and the ones whose physical pain was linked up to their obvious emotional/psychological pain without exception had very bad ideas about their parents, particularly their fathers. One client, whom I saw over a long period, we will call her Jane, was in constant pain, even after much treatment. Slowly, over time, I questioned Jane about her Father and it turned out he was a drinker and a selfish man, who had often left his children hungry just so that he could drink. Jane had very mixed up feelings about him, even though, now she is as an adult. Relationships had been scarce and troubled. I told her about my experience and how I refused to have any negative feelings toward my parents and how good that felt. One day she arrived and said she was visiting her Father more often and seemed to have forgiven him. I asked her how she felt about him now and she said, ‘oh he’s ok!’ This would have been impossible months before. Her pain cleared up and soon after she stopped coming to see me. She was fine.
We all have a duty to ourselves to get over our parents and forgive them. Try to see how they felt about their parents. To some, this will be obvious. To many, this might well change your mindset and help you to enjoy life a whole lot more.