“Propensities and principles must be reconciled by some means.” –Charlotte Bronte
Reconciliation with an estranged family member is possible, despite the bleak statistics … the failure rate is staggering.
I’d read and researched, been up and down with my father in my attempt at understanding – I’d spoken to my wife, children, friends, mother-in-law and therapist. I’d listened to the advice of my readers …
Somewhere in the process I realized that relating to him now based solely on residual feelings from childhood – my being reactive (negatively) to everything he said, and my not seeing him for the man he is today wasn’t productive. My anger – justified or not, was standing in the way of problem solving. And about this same time, I began to understand that I wanted the problem of estrangement solved, and I wanted it all to have a happy ending … if that was possible.
So, I stepped back and away from what happened when I was a child and suggested we start with today. Build a connection now – a new connection based on our lives in the present. I told him about my family and my life during the years since we’d last seen each other, I gave him hope in the form of sharing a few fond memories I had of him while I was growing up, and I invited him to an evening out with our wives.
I extended an olive branch …
remembered my own principles; ‘a man should not be defined by his mistakes, but by what he does to make them right.’
And in remembering who I am, it dawned on me:
I had to give him a second chance.
In my anger and pain I hadn’t realized that believing in second chances meant I had to offer something, too – a willingness, an open heart.
I thought, eventually, we’d have to revisit my childhood – but armed with a new connection, a solid bond, the moment would play itself out differently – it would be less complicated and more constructive – less painful and more resolute – less angry and more understanding.
Maybe my decision was wise, I don’t really know. What I do know is that I no longer feel a need to speak of my father’s mistakes with him, no need to revisit my childhood and make the man he is today confront the father he was then. He may not have been the father I needed as a child, but he gets an A+ for effort now.
In addition to getting my father back, I’ve gotten a far more complete understanding of my childhood – something I needed to feel whole emotionally.
I admire and respect his approach – to this day he will not speak to me disparagingly about my mother. This is, even in my family where my mother has caused a sea of pain, destruction and heartbreak, the right thing to do. Denigration is not the key to understanding, truth is.
If propensity represents the dark side of human nature, as Bronte suggests, acting on our principles allows us to be something greater …
and to have something greater:
relationships based in truth, understanding, kindness, loyalty … and maybe even forgiveness.