This week I decided I needed to get back on track reading Dad’s journals. Opened Diary 1 towards the beginning, and found this entry, with the words ‘Significant day’ circled in the margin:
“19/10/88- Lying in bed for what seemed like an age, mind wouldn’t stop going over childhood memories, tears, sadness. Went to see J- [therapist], lots more tears as we talked about the same childhood memories, what home was like, what sort of relationship between parents… The universe is telling me ‘It’s enough!’; there have to be positive changes or I shall get sick, have an accident…”
Dad wrote that 25 years ago tomorrow. What incredible timing. And what fascinating yet difficult sentiments.
If I was asked to describe my personality challenges, I’d say that if I’m stressed, I lie in bed with my mind going round and round. I’d say that I cry easily. I’d admit that I constantly reflect on what I’m doing, and whether I’m happy and satisfied. And that if I’m not, I am likely to make a dramatic change- end a relationship/move house/change jobs. I think these qualities are all strengths and weaknesses of mine; the proverbial ‘double-edged sword’.
The coincidence of finding this entry in Dad’s journal, the month after I drove 3000kms across Australia to make positive changes in my personal life and career, astounds me.
It is hard to read of his pain and troubles, but I’m aware that perhaps I have learnt from his struggles? I’m sure many people who knew Lawrence would say he was a cheerful and positive person, perhaps annoyingly so sometimes! But over the years, he and I shared many sad feelings or experiences (as well as all the good stuff and giggles), and I don’t believe he fully resolved several important issues. Do we ever? It certainly isn’t easy. But the repercussions still influenced his behaviour and attitudes, including uncomfortable relationships with some close family.
His entry the next day closes with this:
“… More confirmation of what I’m already working out- that I come from a family where emotions and feelings were strictly taboo. Now I have to work out, with help, what that means to me!”
Dad, you’re English- it’s a national pastime, tabooing emotions. You’re also a man- you are culturally and genetically programmed to deny those pesky feelings of yours. With 25 more years of Western social evolution and psychological research, including the baby boomers’ obsession with ‘self-help’ books, I can categorically state that emotions are now very expressed, and very processed.
Shit still happens though. Parents remain poorly suited or stressed; children still learn negative reinforcement; gender stereotypes and inequalities perpetuate. But you did your work, and you died happy Dad, holidaying in Hawaii with your girlfriend. You took up multiple volunteer roles, and ballroom dancing. You shared many loving experiences with your immediate and extended family: you were the ‘glue’ that held us all together, with your fortnightly or monthly timetable of phone calls, relaying precious news, travel plans, and anniversaries, even across the globe.
I’m not saying you were perfect. I’m not saying you healed all your wounds. And I’m not saying you didn’t have more work to do. But perhaps there is always more? And maybe a key to peace within yourself is to acknowledge that you’ve done as much as you could with the skills, tools, and energy available to you? Some scars remain more vivid than others, but a healing process has still taken place. Even if it’s taken 25 years.