He was the one,
Made me what I am today,
It's up to me now,
My daddy has gone away...
- Had a Dad, Jane's Addiction
In my 20s, the idea of marriage was only a little more appealing to me than a root canal. Even so, I always knew I wanted to be a father. And to do that, I resigned myself to the idea of marriage - something to bear as I taught my future son how to play speed metal on guitar.
My relationship with my father was mostly tepid, punctuated by occasional moments of violence. Like many men before me, I swore I’d never treat my child the way he treated me. As a camp counsellor, my glowing staff evaluations confirmed that I was nothing like him, or so I thought.
In graduate school, I read** something that blew a hole through that fantasy: Family interaction patterns repeat across generations. So no matter how many times I told myself I’d turn out differently than my dad, I’d probably be wrong. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
But that’s only half the story. In essence, we all play a role in keeping things stuck the way they are in our relationships. This means we each have the opportunity to do something different and change the family pattern. Not with our future partners and children, but right now... with any of our relationships. So if I wanted to be a better father, I would need to change my habitual patterns with my own father (and mother, brother, etc).
A few years after doing my part to “change the family pattern”, I received a letter (click on the image to expand) from my father: “I hope in the not too distant future we can become not like father and son but more like good friends. This takes work on both sides.” For the next ten years, we both did our work, at times frustrating, but ultimately filled with joy. He lived just long enough to hold my newborn baby, his first grandson. To quote Robert Pirsig: "We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things."
** Family Therapy Concepts and Methods (On Murray Bowen's Family Systems Theory)
The webcomic will return next week.