The Ideal Son

December 23, 2003

Michele and I were up early this morning. We've both been experiencing some stress as the Christmas holiday draws near. Time with family isn't always easy or enjoyable and we find ourselves struggling to express all the little things that bug us about the whole situation. This morning was no different.

Both of our fathers are cold, remote men whose approach to emotions is tumultuous at best. We each have deep scars from our childhoods that get reopened around the major holidays. In her case her father was physically aggressive and angry, once destroying Christmas dinner by throwing it on the floor, or another time smashing the tree by tossing it out the window. My father is coldly uninvolved in the whole affair. After my sister died on Christmas Day in 1973 he has never talked about her or shown any feelings about her or the holiday what so ever. By cutting himself off from his emotions he also cut off the rest of us from him.

In my father's case, not expressing his emotions leaves a smoldering core of unexpressed feelings that can, and do, explode to the surface inappropriately. Several years ago he harbored a misunderstanding for over a year before raging at my wife and me. He wanted to exclude us from family functions as it "caused too much tension" for him. Having my father explode with emotion like that scared both Michele and me. In her case it reminded her of the explosiveness of her father, and left her wondering when the other shoe would drop. She has never really been comfortable in his presence since. For me, seeing my father so unreasonably enraged and out of control was a new, and frightening, experience for me. However, I found that his tantrum helped to strip away the blinders I had been using when looking at him.

I see him as a man now, and not as some mythic figure. Growing up I thought he knew everything and could do anything. Even as an adult I tended to revert to this childish view of my father, sometimes to my own detriment. Having him explode in my face forced me to re-evaluate my take on him. He isn't the be all and end all man I imagined as a child, and the hurts that I felt weren't about me not being good enough to please him, they were really about his inability to connect with me in any real way.

My father has an idea of what I, as a son, should represent. He loves the idea of me; he doesn't love me. He was very good at projecting this ideal son image onto me as I was growing up. Whenever I fell short of the ideal I always felt I had failed him, or that I wasn't good enough. Throughout my adulthood I have struggled with feeling inadequate; I rarely allow myself to feel proud of my accomplishments or abilities. Finally breaking through the façade of his "ideal" son has allowed me to see that I am good, I am accomplished, and I have tremendous abilities.

It also opened up a deep place of hurt, one that I have harbored since I was a child. It is that place where I put all the feelings of inadequacy I had when he couldn't reach past his ideal image of me to the real me. Tearing down the walls I put around this part of me in our talk this morning will allow me to start healing myself. I can be the father figure my inner child needs now. I can let go of the need for my father to change who he is and how he relates to me. And as I heal my hurts and father myself, I will be able to bridge the gap between his image of me, and the real me, thus providing a way to start a better relationship with him.

I know that my perception of this is the truth for me. It does not matter if anyone else, even my father, sees it this way. Seeing my truth and embracing it is the only way I know to grown and change for the better. It is the only way I want to live.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.