A son who showed up like a mirror reflecting all his worst fears.
A left hook, his son crumpled on the kitchen floor.
Tortured by clinging to a faith that betrayed him.
A restless angry God that he struggled to love.
And the fear! And the fear!
An insidious thought he could never truly own.
“Perhaps I am wrong”
Part of my morning practice is to read a page or two from James Hollis’s remarkable book Hauntings. On this particular day he was suggesting that everyone’s life has a core complex, a subterranean, archaic reflex that can regularly impact our current reactions and behaviours. I have known for a while that my own core complex has been my relationship with my father. It could colour my reaction to many situations causing either fight or flight depending on the trigger – similar responses that my father had often triggered.
I have learned how to live with this conflict; the wound is always there but how I react to it can be managed. This was not always the case as I remember once getting fired because in the moment I yelled at my boss “you don’t have a constructive bone in your body” when I thought he was being unduly critical. This was was actually a child’s response to his father rather than a reasoned adult to his superior. My past could haunt my present in a way that at the time I seemed unable to control.
Much time has passed since then and I have done an inordinate amount of exploration around my relationship with my dad and have over time learned to forgive him, believing that he had done the best he could under the circumstances. I felt curious about why I was revisiting this once again when I felt that I had completed my work around this issue.
Hollis was friends with the great poet Stephen Dunn who gave permission to share his story of his relationship with his father where a secret had permeated family life causing ongoing friction in the household and a complex to develop around secrecy. I sensed that much of Stephen’s healing came from writing about this. In a poem titled The Ghost, he writes, “An outgoing man, my father once held back a truth that would have rescued him from sadness. Now he roams my inheritance in every word I hear him speak. He vanishes, returns, no place for him in this entire world.”
Hollis suggests that only dialogue with such “stuff” provides release. I reflected on my journey and all the complexities derived from a father who could not accept his son the way he was. My disbelief in God at the age of 14 had become a wall as impenetrable as the ideological iron curtain that had developed between the west and the USSR after the war. Our relationship was forever strained as a result. He accused me as being “willful” as though it was a deliberate choice made to offend him.
As I mused about the past, I noticed words flowing up from somewhere deep within. Words, then phrases, then sentences that seemed to morph independent of the thinker into a poem. I stopped in wonder and surprise at what seemed a miracle. As I read the words I sensed I understood my father for the first time. Then I felt a piece of my personal puzzle slip into place reminding me of Dorriane Laux’s exquisite poem Break. “ we put the puzzle together piece by piece loving how each curved notch fits so sweetly with another.“
I realized that underneath this core complex I had unconsciously wanted to know why my father could not love me unconditionally. As I read the poem I could see how impossible I would be for him to express love to someone who mirrored all his worst fears. Suddenly I felt more at peace. It was as though the healing had shifted from my head to my heart.