Agreements With My Father, With Myself
A Father's Day option for those without memories to cherish
When I was a little girl I remember my father dancing with me on his toes in the kitchen of our four bedroom apartment. I remember feeling happy in that moment. I also remember how he used to call me my mother’s shadow and how he rubbed the stubble on his cheek on my face, playfully, as I giggled. Those are the three good memories that I clung to over the years into my adulthood. Three memories, three small moments in time that allowed me to move myself beyond the abusive husband and father that he was. When my father died it was strange for me to have friends tell me that he was a great man. I thanked them and restrained the part of me that wanted to educate them on the specifics of living with him, growing up with an abusive alcoholic and later, when he stopped drinking, a “sober drunk” as my mother used to call him. He was mean at home, his temperament that of someone unsatisfied with life. I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s reality and I didn’t want to spoil the three small memories of my own that allowed me to flourish in spite of him.
I recently read a book titled “The Four Agreements” and I can’t stop thinking about it. This book provides a simple pathway of agreements we all need to make with ourselves in order to alleviate our own suffering. One of the agreements is to not take anything personally. Without realizing it, this is how I eventually overcame bad parenting. At some point in my twenties, I made a choice to focus on only the elements of my upbringing that were most nourishing to myself. I relegated my father experience to the three good memories. I didn’t forget all the negative things I experienced but the three experiences I held close to my heart were good ones. The remaining parts of growing up with a father like mine were set into another place within me that I take out only selectively, sometimes for reflection, sometimes for my writing to purge the things I find creeping nearer to the deepest parts of my soul. There was a part of me that hoped whatever hell my father was in that caused him to eventually distance himself from his many children, had nothing to do with me or us. I suppose this was a type of forgiveness that was most beneficial to myself, if anyone.
In thinking on this I’ve been contemplating adding one more memory to my slate of good memories. When I was a teenager, I was out at an amusement park with my friends. I saw my father there with other people, a family I didn’t know. I waved to him and he looked away. He looked away and I was shocked. I carried that with me and it devoured me for a long while. Then one day, I saw him outside of my sister’s apartment. I was driving by and he stopped me. I rolled my passenger’s side window down and he stuck his head in as if we were old buddies, a smile on his face. I remember feeling pained that I couldn’t return a smile.
“Your sister told me that you saw me at the park,” he said. “I didn’t see you there.”
I don’t remember my response to him, if any.
“I wouldn’t do that to you,” he continued. “I didn’t want you going on thinking that I did that.”
My memory has lost track of any more of the exchange. It occurred to me after reading the book “The Four Agreements” that I made an agreement with myself, well before my father leaned his head into that window, resting his arms folded on the side of my car. I agreed with myself that I was going to cling to my own narrative of what happened that day at the amusement park. I agreed that my father ignored me. I agreed with myself that he was ashamed of me. That I wasn’t good enough. I agreed with myself that I didn’t believe his claim that day that he didn’t see me although if I did believe him right at that moment, it would have saved me suffering under the weight of the experience.
There are many other memories that have no apologies, nor disclaimers. There are my siblings and my mother who experienced worse than I did under my father’s parenting and husbanding. But all along, apologies haven’t been needed at all. All that has been needed is an agreement with ourselves that all of whatever my father did had nothing to do with any of us. He enacted out his own hell, had his own agreements with himself, his own sufferings.
The fourth memory is one that alters the daddy narrative I held in my mind. Although I made the decision to cling to those first three memories so that I could move toward a productive life, so that I could choose a father for my daughter more like one who would dance a daughter on his toes, it is the fourth memory that is causing my neurons to grow, challenging me in ways that I didn’t realize possible. Mainly, it is forcing me to let go of this last bit of suffering that has blanketed my heart. Perhaps my father didn’t see me that day at the park. What a relief I could give myself if I believe in this. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if he did or if he didn’t. The agreement I make with myself about what happened that day has potential to either further my suffering or alleviate it.
Which will I choose? What agreements have we all made with ourselves? What agreements continue our suffering over things that we have the option to not take personally, in recognition that people, including our parents, are indeed living out their own heavens and hells.
It is ironic that the few good memories I have with my father allowed me the capacity to accept into my life an amazing, loving, devoted father for my daughter and our nephew who we also raised. So for those few good memories with Dad, I am thankful to him. I am also thankful to my husband for always being the father to our children that my father could not be to me.
For those of us who are suffering, left without even a single good memory of father to lean on, what is most important is the agreement you make with yourself because of it. Do agree that you are worth a life of heaven on Earth and happiness, or do you agree that you are worth a life of hell and suffering? I think that we all deserve the heaven and happiness we can create for ourselves.
Coming soon….an excerpt from my novel “Standing in the Gap,” a fictional work in progress about a striving young black couple who decides to raise their musically talented nephew in New York City.
If you enjoy this space, I want to hear from you. Please subscribe, comment and share.
Loved this Corena. As always…. A great read. ❤️❤️❤️
This was a very poignant story of your father-daughter experience. I love to read your stories. They are always, informative and thought provoking. I really felt your words, as I always do.