June 20, 2010

On the Subject of Fathers

In an interview a few years back, the big yin, Billy Connolly spoke about his tormented upbringing, outlined in a biography written by his psychotherapist wife, Pamela Stephenson--a book about healing more than anything else. 

The abuse was terrible: abandonment, sexual, violence. But in the interview--which covered far more than his tumultuous upbringing--he was adamant about not harboring resentment about his past, nor being portrayed as a victim.

When asked about his father, who sexually abused him for several years, Connolly spoke on forgiveness, and how it allowed him to continue to love his father now as he did growing up. How the betrayal that occurred was not the dominant feature of how he saw his dad.

The interview was remarkable to me because of how difficult forgiveness comes to many (myself included at times). How easy it is to carry resentment deep in your gut and allow it to color the way you see the world. Especially when it stems from such scarring trauma.

My life in comparison to Mr. Connolly's is almost innocuous. I had caring parents who did their best to raise four children. My father worked too hard for too little and that made him tired and short-tempered. But there was never any doubt that he was dedicated to his family--that the lack he felt in his own upbringing would not carry over into the one he helped create.

He wasn't perfect--wasn't easy to please. But he was and is a great teacher. Even today, kids gravitate towards him, his strange and silly humor, his willingness to engage with them at their level. And his capacity to forgive and not be tied down by resentment is paramount to this.

It's difficult to place value on these traits, but when I look at my daughter--the single greatest achievement of our lives--I know I take these traits to heart. Somewhere, in the convoluted world of parenting, I know a few things will stand true.

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