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Friday, November 9, 2012

Better Friends

A father's love is such a special gift.  As a child, growing up, I had a deep love and admiration for my father, and we spent many wonderful times together.  Some of my fondest memories were the fishing trips we would take to lake Granby, in Colorado.  As we'd approach the lake, just as the sun was about to rise, my father would break out into song and sing "The War of 1812", and in my joy of just being with my dad, I'd try to sing it with him.  We'd set our poles in the water in the perfect spot, my dad always knew where the fish would be, and within a few hours, we'd have a stringer of fish to show for our efforts.  Of course, he was and still is the master, and while I was staring off into the sky looking at the clouds floating by, he was catching fish left and right, and I marveled at how he could do it (probably because he was watching his pole!).  He taught me how to fish, but he also taught me a lot of other things too, which has helped me to be the man I am today.  As a young boy and adolescent, I idolized my father, and I wanted to be like him.  He was tall, handsome, strong, powerful, and full of vigor and determination.  There was no problem my dad could not overcome.  He worked hard for his family, and built a beautiful life for me, my mom, and my siblings to live in, and because of his dedication to his family, he worked long hours to provide us the lifestyle we had.  My siblings, mom, and I were able to do just about whatever we wanted.  Money, or the lack of it, was never a problem to be feared, he wanted us to enjoy life, but unfortunately, he wasn't always able to be with us because work required him to be in the office or out in the field.  But for him, I think he received much satisfaction in seeing his children happy by the things his labor enabled them to do and receive.

The relationship between fathers and sons can be very complicated.  I think one of our greatest desires is to have a deep, authentic relationship with our fathers, but often times, there are many things that stand in the way of opening the possibility for that closer connection.  Fathers are easily blamed for not being emotionally available to us as kids, as being too mean, or hard, or not taking the time to be with us, and we resent our fathers for it.  My father was a strict disciplinarian, and if I stepped outside of the boundaries too far, he'd be right there all over me to reel me back in.  His fuse ran fast, his engine was on turbo speed, and he could go from calm to fierce rage in a second, and being a sensitive boy, I grew to fear my father.  This doesn't mean I don't love my father, I absolutely do, but because I feared him and was deeply sensitized to his moods, I conditioned myself to become very passive and submissive whenever I felt intimidated by him.  These resentments built up over time, and as I got older, I perceived my sensitive nature as a weakness, and blamed my father for it.  The idea of standing up to my father was ludicrous, he was a Vietnam veteran, a former Navy Seal, and the war (and I know he may disagree with this, but the evidence is indisputable) had a profound effect on him, especially when I was young.  The sons of fathers who have been to war are inevitably affected by that war as a consequence of the major emotional and psychological trauma their fathers' go through.  That kind of pain one experiences in battle, the horrors one sees and experiences, gets layered over and over with emotional and psychological defenses, the need to protect that inner self is so strong, that it must be defended against at all costs.  Sons of military men or veterans are often confused about why their fathers are so distant, or why does he get mad at me for no reason, or why is he so hard on me?  The pain of war or PTSD is so intense and constant, it is impossible to carry on normal emotional relationships with people.  From my experience with it, the last thing you want to do is let somebody in, to let them see your vulnerability, to allow the possibility for them to hurt you emotionally, and so, when I experienced it, I shut off from desiring intimate relations with people outside of my family.  On the flip side, the littlest thing triggers you because you have so much rage inside, it's very easy to explode.  Add alcohol or drugs to the disorder, and you are a walking time bomb.  I know when I was drinking in the midst of my bout with a severe case of PTSD, the alcohol brought out all the emotions I felt onto the surface, and I was at the mercy of what I felt, and worse, I couldn't control it.  The deeper the pain, the greater the rage, and without treatment, it creates dysfunctional behavioral patterns where small insignificant things are the causes of major eruptions that end up causing major psychological scars for all the people involved.  This is something I believe many sons, daughters, wives, and husbands, have experienced from the spouse or parent returning from war, and these cycles get repeated, these waves of trauma get repeated (dysfunctional relationships, tense family relationships, etc.), from one generation to the next generation and to the next, until we take responsibility in our own lives to end the cycle.  But I digress.

My father was always there for me.  If I ever needed him, he was right there, and if I was ever in trouble, the one man I could count on to get me through it was him.  Of all the fathers out there, I was so proud to call him mine, he was the rock cliff everyone came to for shelter in times of crisis, and he was the oak tree we all took shelter under when it was raining in our lives.  My father is a brilliant man.  He ignited my intellectual passion for the Greeks and Romans, gave me books to read, and engaged me on many intellectual discourses from philosophy to literature to train my mind to think and synthesize the thoughts and ideas I was learning.  And when I joined the military by going to the Academy, I felt we had a deeper bond because we had more in common, and it was always my desire to understand him better.  There are so many memories I have with him that were happy memories, where we shared and expressed our love for each other, whether it was sitting outside on the porch smoking a cigar, or listening to music, or taking a ride in the car to get some coffee, there were many great times.  But life has a way of bringing things to the surface that need to be healed, and often, these periods of healing are preceded by periods of great adversity and pain.  Without going into detail, our family went through a difficult time, and as a consequence, my relationship with my father became strained, and when he divorced my mother after 40 years, I was very angry at him for the pain he inflicted on my mother.  Our relationship has not been the same since.

Now that the dust has settled, and after my recovery from the disastrous effects of the PTSD I experienced after my ex-fiance left me unexpectedly and with such cruelty, I've come to a wonderful place of peace and acceptance for all those who are in my life.  I've done an incredible amount of spiritual work, have uncovered and healed all of my wounds, some that went as far back as my early childhood, and I've come to realize everyone is simply trying to do the best they can.  I believe out of the destruction of what was, something better and more authentic can come about when we realize and acknowledge that we are each unique individuals traveling along a human journey.  The anger and resentments I've had about my father and his recent actions prevent me from having a new, and possibly better relationship than before.  My attachment to what he should have done, or the "unforgivable" act he committed, only gets in the way of loving and experiencing his love for me now.  So, I've asked myself, do I want to hold onto this grievance, or do I want to be at peace with my dad, and maybe even become better friends?

There's this wonderful book I just read by Greg Larsen called Better Friends, and its about how to be at peace with your father and create the friendship that you want.  It all starts with forgiveness and love and recognizing and acknowledging your father as a human being, and honoring him for it.  I realize my father was doing the best he could, and was just living out the conditioning of his journey in the world he grew up in, from childhood to adulthood.  He made mistakes, but so have I, and as long as I focus and give energy to the pain of my past, it keeps the past alive, and as long as the pain of the past is kept alive, it is impossible to have a loving relationship with my dad.  I could either live in the pain, and stay stuck there, or I could choose a different course, withdraw the negative energy attached to those memories, allow for enough space to enter in where love and forgiveness could take seed, and as this has happened, the emotional charge of the memories has disappeared.  As I continue to cultivate this awareness of how my emotionally triggered thoughts about the past keep me from living fully in the present, my life has become brighter and happier as a consequence.  By being in complete acceptance of how my life has unfolded, I can live more consciously today, and see the world as it really is.  And when you start seeing the world as it really is, the world suddenly becomes filled with immense beauty and joy, and then you come to realize how much of your life is a precious gift.

When you experience this expansion of happiness, when your consciousness expands, to include everything around you, this inner space makes forgiveness a possibility.  You are no longer focused on the pain.  When you focus on the pain, you create more pain.  It's law.  It's a field of energy we attract ourselves to, a field of unhappiness, and unless we clean this up, we'll keep the same programs running through our head.  "My father did this to me."  "My father didn't love me."  "My father should have done this."  And on and on and on.  We must consciously make a choice to evolve beyond this, to recognize and sense our natural state of inner joy, peace, and love.  When we connect to this, and see that this is our true state, not the programs our ego has been operating within us for years, you naturally forgive others and yourself.  It can be no other way.

There is a collective residue of pain residing in the father/child relationship and you hear it in the collective stories of dads all across our society, in our communities, in our own families.  These stories are passed down from generation to generation and we carry those stories from our fathers with us.  In addition, we carry everything our fathers (and their fathers, and so on and so on) ever did within us, and so, it is vitally important to clean up the energy and dissolve the trapped pain within us that is intimately connected to our fathers.  By doing so, you allow that energy to be released, and the father/child relationship can evolve towards a new potential.  It's our responsibility to do this.  Your children and their children will benefit from the work that you do now.  And the added benefit, is the relationship you have with your father will be transformed.  Without the negative energy's corrupting influence, the chance to create an authentic relationship with your father is greatly improved.  But as long as the past remains charged with anger, bitterness, and resentment, then it will be a struggle to create the friendship that you want with your dad.

I found Greg Larsen's book to be extremely valuable and appropriate for me and the relationship I want to cultivate with my father.  As long as we hold our fathers as prisoners to their past failings, we can never see them for who they really are, and we miss out on experiencing their love for us.  We may not always agree with them, heck we may never agree with them, but we can work to cultivate a healthy, loving, authentic father/son relationship, and by so doing, make peace with our dads and become better friends.