Thursday, May 11, 2017

The CliffsNotes version of my relationship with Barry Morris (an adventure in self-therapy)

A search of the phrase 'unconventional parental relationships' might return a link to this blog. I've always marveled at (and been envious of) healthy, normal, consistent familial relationships.

My father died this week. My mother passed two years ago, so Dad was my last direct mooring to this planet, and my last-best-hope to truly understanding why I'm here. The unconventional aspect of our relationship stems from the fact I met him for the first time at age 31. The past 20+ years have literally been an attempt to catch up.

Absent the day-to-day mental history most people co-author with their parents (as divergent from reality as they often are), I've managed to learn in bursts everything I know about my Dad and family. We exchanged letters at first, in which I described the first three decades of my life, and he gave me a peek into his world. He also described the circumstances which influenced decisions my parents made about their relationship and its fate.

I was heartened by the similarities in my parents' stories. Both admitted to playing a part, and accepted their roles in their relationship's demise.

Upon our first face-to-face meeting I witnessed the profound impact of genetics. As much stock as we place in the formative influence of environment, I am convinced more than ever our primary constitution is based on DNA. Facial expressions, body motions, stride, all were uncannily similar. If there was any reason to be suspicious of our genetic commonality, our matching smiles removed all doubt.

My new connection to Dad also came with bonus connections to other family members. I have a half-sister and step-brother, both of whom have children and families who are now part of my life. I have a great uncle who is quite an extraordinary and even historic figure, who has also been very kind and welcoming. Dad's wife, who had every right to treat me with skepticism, has done the opposite. I consider her a great blessing, and look forward to maintaining a relationship with her as long as she'll have me.

Unfortunately, the act of building a bridge to my father also served to build a wall between my mother and me. Her life was very difficult and the work of raising a child alone was often more than she could handle. She had a very tumultuous childhood which ill-prepared her for challenges ahead. She did the best she could and was lucky to have a father she could depend on for help. I spent about half of my childhood with my grandparents, who I credit greatly with my personal balance. (Many would say the word 'balance' is a gross mischaracterization.)

On the other hand, my father's life was more traditional and comfortable. He had the benefit of both parents, was involved with their family business, and had a healthy childhood and head start. My mother couldn't help feeling bitter about that. Despite my attempts to balance my attention, the more time I spent with Dad, the more she pulled away from me. When she died we hadn't spoken for several months. Needless to say, I was devastated.

My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer a short time before her death. She made the decision that she lacked the will to fight the disease, and took her own life. She consulted no one, she allowed no attempts at dissuasion.

Dad had always considered suicide an act of cowardice and an affront to god, and when I told him of Mom's death he made no effort to conceal those feelings. Although he had softened his stance recently, his original reaction made a mark on me that would never fully heal.

Similar marks exist in every relationship. We had less of a foundation than most, but over time we managed to work through it. In the end, things were better. Over the past 20 years we had both invested much time and effort in building family bonds. Given another 20 years, who knows...

I do know this. I'm thankful for the family I inherited through meeting my father. I'm thankful for my wife's extraordinary family, which has become a loving and important part of my life. But yesterday I opened my phone and saw Dad on my 'frequent calls' list, and the thought of not having him, and those calls, made me feel profoundly lonely.


Courtney Morris said...

I love u daddy!

Unknown said...

I love you more.