Is your dad your hero or your antagonist? Did you have fights and battles and issues when your were growing up or was he always just what you needed to pick you up off the field, dust you off and send you back in the game? Are you afraid you will be become just like him or hopeful? Our early relationships with our fathers, whether he was the opposite or same-sex parent, set the tone for much of how we do life and business later in life and how we embrace or shun our masculine traits like courage, ambition and the will and strength to complete a mission.
My dad is turning 91 this year. He has lived far past what he ever thought possible. As I was having father's day brunch this year and as we are approaching his birthday in the fall, I am now experiencing these celebrations with the wistful thought that they might be for the last time. Each event is a chance to contemplate his legacy, his influence on me and the character traits he has that live on through me for both the good and the bad.
Some of my dad's traits I've embraced and others I still resist.
My parents divorced when I was 11 and I took my mother's side of the conflict morally and with respect to physical custody. Every tragedy requires a villain and he became the vilified. And yet he came to every game whether I played or not, and despite the abusive nature of his own childhood, I am now satisfied that he did his best along the way.
Sadly, my father, at his advanced age, won't grasp what I've written here. He won't know that I've forgiven him for the slights and injuries he's caused that I've now forgotten. His level of of cognitive decline is the cruel denouement to the distanced life he's led with his children.
We all inherit traits we like and dislike from our parents.
Alzheimer's is just one kind of legacy a child can inherit from his or her dad. That specific possibility is mine to deal with. But I also have other gifts. My dad was always an articulate writer and a great storyteller who held court at the centre of whatever room he was in. He was outgoing, funny and ambitious and developed the social skills to navigate and build valuable networks. He could sell and he could close deals. He was a lot of other less virtuous things too. And he did a lot of things I stood in judgement over for more than four decades, but the sands of time have eroded my contempt and have left me considering the bedrock and the fortunate residue.
Children grapple with the examples of their parents. There are many good traits we happily embrace like kindness, temperance and compassion. There are the ugly ones we have contempt for and then actively resist becoming in the hope that we transcend their weaknesses. Sometimes we succeed at this evolution and other times we are horrified to learn we have become our father's son or daughter. And then there are the good qualities we sometimes shun simply out of negative association. My dad is a charming networker. In the early days of our family he used this considerable ability in ways that were much less than constructive and that led to the end of our nuclear family. But alas, at this stage of my life, my version of the charming networker is proving to be a useful business asset, even as I struggle to overcome decades-old injunctions curtailing the excavation of that long-buried capacity.
Many people die unforgiven.
Forgiveness is for the living. I hope my children don't hold me in the kind of contempt I've held my own father. I hope I can embrace all the gifts I received from him and they embrace what I've offered up. It's never really too late. We are all a part of our father's legacy whether we all like it or not.