Finding My Father
"For my father and I, both expertly trained in the self-defense of hiding our hearts to cover up our hurt, our current relationship is somewhat of a miracle. We are both finding out that love is stronger than steel, and that the pain of the past can be put behind us. For men in this culture to be more interested in being close than in being right is something to celebrate!"
~~ From essay Finding My Father by Scott Kalechstein
Below is a moving story of profound healing between son and father. This inspiring essay shows how even the thickest walls between people can be broken down when one person decides to make a sincere effort and take responsibility for their part in the drama. A big thank you to my good friend Scott for sharing this most beautiful transformation story. For more empowering ideas on taking responsibility and shifting from the role of victim to that of a creator, click here. May your days be filled with meaningful connections and powerful transformation.
Finding My Father
by Scott Kalechstein
"Good work, Scott. Now it's time to find your father."
When I participated in a retreat with my Mom in 1991, those were the last words the facilitator spoke to me. Find my father? What did he mean by that? Somehow I knew healing my relationship with Dad was vital, but how to go about it was another story. At the time the gulf between us seemed insurmountable, and I did not take the facilitator's words to heart. My feelings of being criticized and rejected by Dad were my deepest wound.
Before he was 30, my father fought in World War II, became a doctor, and married my mother. Their first two children were girls, and then I, the final one, plopped out. I can imagine my father's excitement about having a son, someone to guide from boyhood to manhood, to continue the family name, someone to be proud of, perhaps even someone to follow in his footsteps. In my early years I was the apple of his eye, and he was my knight in shining armor. We played sports and games, and often went fishing together.
As adolescence approached, however, it became abundantly clear that my feet were hell bent on following another path – any path but his! In school I was having behavioral problems. I was feeling all kinds of difficult feelings about myself and my life, feelings that I needed help sorting out and understanding. I expressed my inner angst by becoming a class clown and rebel, defying any and all rules.
To my credit, I was very creative and original in my acting out. I also displayed signs of brilliance in the subjects I was interested in. But when report card time rolled around, I was filled with dread. Having my parents read those things was a very traumatic experience for me. Sometimes I was punished. I got more upset each time my parents' disapproving magnifying glass was focused on my poor grades and attention getting schemes. I responded by doing more things that would bring me disapproval and punishment.
Eventually, I learned that I would be treated less harshly if I punished myself, so my inner critic was born. My parents saw me being hard on myself, and so eased up on me. Self-reproach is a great protection plan, and being skilled in guilt and self-criticism was a large part of the shadow side of our family tradition.
My dad had no idea how to deal with me. He grew silent and distant, erecting a wall and pretending that he didn't care. That was even more painful to me than my mother's voiced disapproval. I hated him for that, and expressed my anger just as covertly, by also pretending that I didn't want anything to do with him. We lived under the same roof, but we were a thousand miles away from each other.
I continued to have trouble with school until the time I chose to drop out and pursue my interests in music and metaphysics. I became totally focused on my spiritual growth, the quest for enlightenment, and God – a fact that sent shivers through my father's mind.
My father, somewhat of an atheist, had given birth to a son who was thumbing his nose at intellectual, practical concerns, and doing the "God" thing. While I don't believe my spiritual searching was simply an expression of my war with my father, he sure took it that way. There were many hard feelings between us, feelings that hardened into cement as time went by.
For much of my twenties, I went about my life without much of a relationship with my dad. We had stopped trying to change each other, but the walls remained, thick and cold between us. We had both written off the relationship as incapable of improvement.
Things all began changing four years after that facilitator told me it was time to deal with Dad. Finally taking the facilitator's advice, I wrote my father the below letter, and he wrote one back. Two human beings with a history of separateness began to cross old, outdated borders and to get to know each other.
I have been thinking a lot about you these days, and I want you to know my thoughts. It seems to me that in my pain, confusion and my struggle to define myself as someone separate from you, I rejected you entirely, along with everything you stood for. Lately I've been seeing that in my rebellion, I have set aside a part of myself that has not been allowed to develop and that can make me a more whole person inside. I have come to regret that rebellious side of my personality and I am setting out to make changes.
You tried to teach me, by your example, how to be a disciplined, reliable provider for oneself and for a family. You showed me how to live safely in the world, with a sense of security and structure. You modeled success in ways that I did my best not to emulate. And I am feeling very sorry about that. It was as if I turned away from your most powerful way of showing me that you loved me – the way you lived your life.
Dad, I can sense that my work in the world, my relationships with women and my sense of self-esteem are all affected by this stance. I am working diligently in my life to develop within myself the qualities you tried to pass one to me. Ouch! It's hard for a thirty-two year old with Peter Pan Syndrome to become an adult. But my life does depend on it.
Dad, you are a part of me, and it's time I stopped resisting that and started accepting and working with the gifts you have given me. You have passed on to me a legacy of character traits that are my missing link in my development as a person.
I love you, Dad. I don't want to wait until you are on your deathbed, or until you are gone, to feel and to express that. You have given me so much. I want you to know, as late as it may be, that I am beginning to receive and to learn from you and your life. Growing up is a scary thing, but I'm getting there!
Sending the letter felt like a huge, but necessary risk. How would he respond to such a baring of my soul? I waited for his reply, nervously opening up the mail each day. Each time the phone rang, I imagined it was him. What would he say to me? What would I say to him? Would my letter make a difference, or would I end up regretting that I ever reached out?
Ten days after I sent my letter, I got his response. I opened it up and started crying after the first sentence, right there in the Postal Annex.
Your letter has touched me deeper than I can ever convey to you in words. I cried like a baby during and after reading it. You have come a long way, farther than you realize! Scott, don't berate yourself for rejecting me and my values and my world. It was I who rejected you when you didn't conform to what I wanted for you. Rejection is something you learned from me! I blame myself. Don't forget, I was supposedly the adult, and you were the child. I should have handled things wiser and more maturely.
Scott, listen to me very carefully. Let's not dwell on the past, except if it can help us understand the present and prevent us from making the same mistakes over again. As I said before, you have come a long way, and I have reacted to your changes very positively. You say growing up is scary and difficult. Please remember, I am still trying to grow up! Let's help each other.
Scott, I love you very much. I always have! I hope any scars are temporary and reversible.
I read the letter again and again. Who was this wise, tender, approachable man? Was this my father? I called him up. "Dad, I got your letter." "And I, yours, Scott." We both fumbled for words, but couldn't find any. Finally, my father said, "Scott, I'm all choked up right now. I can't seem to talk." "I feel the same, Dad." Another clumsy, but heart-filled silence. We both managed to say, "I love you", and then had to get off the phone. The feelings were too rich for words, but a new beginning was acknowledged.
I visited my family soon after that. My time with my father was sweet and meaningful. I found myself genuinely interested in him, his past, his dreams, his regrets. I asked him questions as if I we were just starting out. We had some significant catching up to do.
We speak on the phone often these days. It's not always easy to talk to him. I question at times how much to reveal, and what to talk about. Sometimes it flows, and sometimes it feels awkward. We are profoundly different in our beliefs, our lifestyles and our frames of reference. But we are two men relating to each other in the present, not burdened by the past, expressing our caring and support.
For my father and I, both expertly trained in the self-defense of hiding our hearts to cover up our hurt, our current relationship is somewhat of a miracle. We are both finding out that love is stronger than steel, and that the pain of the past can be put behind us. For men in this culture to be more interested in being close than in being right is something to celebrate!
The holiest place on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love.
~~ A Course in Miracles
Note: Scott Kalechstein is an accomplished musician and healer with a fun and inspiring website.
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