I guess that happens. We make the leap from, “I disagree with my father” to “I hate my father.” Childish, but there it is. Listen, kiddos. You’ll figure this out soon enough. We get older. We don’t also ipso facto mature up to behave our age. I’ve met men older than me still living in basements on a diet of KFC three-piece bento and green tea pop. They don’t have girlfriends, and the walls of the basement are decorated with fanboy gear depicting their waifu(s). The Sailor Moon body pillow on the thrift store futon couch has stains on it at about the crotch level. Expensive tech peaks out from under piles of discarded KFC boxes strewn about. The income source isn’t an 8-5 cube rat job that anybody can tell. They have an abnormal amount of time to devote to Reddit and 4chan. And it’s Dad’s fault, somehow.
Somebody wrote to me concerned that I was impugning the character of my father, implying that he was not the good guy they thought he was, that I somehow thought of him as a bad person. I love my father. I have huge respect for him. The work he does now to take care of my Mom is amazing to me. I don’t think I could do it. He and I have grown apart on politics and theology. It’s a mistake, though, to say that because he believes things about doctrine that I disagree with, he is not a decent man.
My father is a good man. His crime is being normal. He came into adulthood with his own gift-wrapped set of issues given to him through the broken marriage of his parents. Some of them were things that the family had unwittingly treasured and passed on as a dissonant inheritance. I’d guess that’s fairly normal for most families. That he had whacko parents just means he’s one of us, he’s a Webb like me.
I get the feeling he made a common vow among children of addicts, “I’ll never be like my parents. My kids will not endure the crap I went through.” And for the most part, he succeeded. He managed to retire from his job at RCA & GE after 40 some years with a nice pension buyout that he’s still living on. He’s still living in the same house he bought once he and my Mom knew they were pregnant with me. He’s achieved boring like I have. Which, coming from the house of Catherine Webb-Janes and Wells Webb, is saying something.
Does that mean I think my grandparents were the cause of it all? That they were demon possessed crazy folk better housed in rubber rooms for the duration? They had a dog in the fight, sure. But they too were just folk trying to be married, raise some kids, and make it through with minimal damage. Yes, my Granddad abandoned my Grandma and left her to raise three kids on her own. There are rumors in the family that my Grandpa was a drunk. Maybe so. Grandma Catherine spent some time in the mental hospital. But neither of them were front page news freak show abnormal. They struggled like my Dad did and like I have. Maybe not the same buzzing cloud of biting issues, but that buzzing cloud was there, pestering them and causing problems. They were normal.
I carry a family myth in me that still defines my choices today: normal doesn’t include the four horsemen that destroy families–abandonment, adultery, addiction and abuse. Normal families don’t suffer from that. Dad has a white-collar union job paying enough for Mom to be a stay-at-home Mom. Mom stays at home, playing bridge once a week with the girls and volunteering at the local homeless shelter on Sunday afternoons. Dad is an elder in the church and volunteers with the Rotary or perhaps is a Mason. There are a couple cars, one for Mom, one for Dad, and maybe another one that Dad is fixing and will run, someday. You get the idea. Your particular utopian vision of a perfect family might vary.
I hope I make my point–there are normal families enduring the consequences of life after experiencing one or more of the four A’s. I am at least the second generation of my family to make a similar vow. My Dad grew up in the chaos of his family and vowed to have a life that was quiet. He got it. That chaos he lived in still intruded into his life and thus, the life of his kids. Instead of the things he feared–addiction and abandonment, there was abuse. It wasn’t physical, that I remember, but it still was there in his biting sarcasm and stubborn insistence on being right over being engaged in the relationship. There were issues serious enough to warrant marriage counseling and therapy for me starting at age 10. I don’t remember specifics, sorry.
My father accomplished his goal. And in so doing he gave me a life in which I could wrestle with the spiritual demons that I inherited from him. His son, not having to fear homelessness, not worrying about who/how the bills were paid, reached back a generation to his grandparents and found art there. He (I) decided to never seek the normal life as I saw it. I wanted to slay dragons and conquer bad guys. I wanted to fight the devil and win. I’d do it on Broadway, a star in the Chorus Line.
Yeah. That went well. Homeless? 3 Times. Abuse? Wife beater. Abandonment? Yes, but I said it was for a good reason. Not on the list: criminal. Battling demons is not a recommended career path if you want to live in a comfortable home where the light & heat bill is reliably paid. I have won some battles, though. My win loss record is good enough that I’d say I’m winning the war. It makes sleeping on the floor of a church social hall with a thin blanket a little easier to deal with.
I love my Dad. It’s a mistake to say that loving him means I must agree with everything he believes. I value more the relationships where we can identify the essentials that must be agreed on and for the rest, charity and love. This is how I love my father even though we disagree on something that is an essential for him. We probably will never agree on some things. I’m ok with that. He’s still a good man, still did good raising me, still does good taking care of my Mom. He has much to be proud of, much that I am proud of him for. But he too has his issues that make him normal. He too is of this world and subject to its temptations and flaws. That doesn’t condemn him. It just makes him one of us, a man made of clay and called to be salt and light