A Lesson from my Father

My father has always been somewhat emotionally detached. He has never, for whatever reason, been willing or able to verbalise warmth or love, let alone to demonstrate it. He has successfully driven away both family and his few friends with his irascability. He lives in a resthome, which gives me the odd twinge of guilt, because if I were a truly good daughter, I would take him in and care for him myself. But he is such a moaner – nothing, but nothing, is ever right. He never has a good day, he never sleeps a wink, the food is never to his liking, he is always bored, the staff are always too busy to spend time listening to him and I don’t ring often enough. And I know that with my tendancy towards depression, that were I to take him in, I would in all probability fall off my precarious perch of positivity. Besides which, he and the Manpet simply don’t get along. They rub each other up terribly. And I’m not willing to inflict that on the man I love.

My father has two grandchildren – Shmoo, who is 28 years old and Chris, who is nine. Dad’s relationship to his grandchildren has been pretty much on a par with his relationship to my brother and me. Stern, cold, distant and judgemental. Shmoo can remember staying out of his way when she was a child, because of his gruffness. My brother’s child, Chris, has always called him Grumpy Grandpa, because the first thing he hears when he does visit is: “Don’t touch anything. Just sit down and be quiet.” Shmoo visits him when she can, but that isn’t very frequently. She feels guilty about this, but my thinking is that if he had put more effort into accepting her as a small child, she would want to see him now.

The sad part of this is that I don’t think he particularly likes being like this. Whether he recognises his own tendencies or not, I don’t know, as we can never have that type of conversation, but he certainly must feel the results. Interestingly, he has a twin brother who is quite the reverse in temperament. Uncle is warm, welcoming, chatty and great fun to be around. Quite how two genetically identical individuals came to have such different personalities is one of those mysteries of life. A friend reckons that long, long ago, my Dad chose to be the grumpy one and that it stuck so well that he couldn’t get out of it even if he wanted to.

The scary part is that I have a lot of my Dad’s personality.
I can be unthinkingly critical. Often, I’ve said things that would have been far better left unsaid.
I look for the downsides. If there is a reason for not doing something, I’ll surely be the one to find it.
I’m not very social. I’d far rather spend an evening alone with a good book than out at a party. When I am with people, I natural tendency is to listen and watch, rather than talk and interact. I find reasons for not doing social things rather than for doing them. I’m happy with my own company.

And now this grandchild, this mokopuna is coming, no doubt to be followed by others. And I do not want to be towards my grandchildren as my father was towards his. I don’t want to alienate them with harsh comments. I don’t want to make them feel small and unwanted. I don’t want them to feel unloved.

I want to make them feel that they are special, unique human beings. I want to make them feel that they are truly in the centre of my universe, that they are always wecome, always wanted, always loved.

I can only hope that I am up to the task.

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