My Father’s Day season was darkened and overlaid by the father whose life was white-washed to make him palatable in the book and movie “The Great Santini.” Author Pat Conroy says,
“My father may be the only person in the history of the world who changed himself because he despised a character in literature who struck chords of horror in himself that he could not face. He had the best second act in the history of fathering. He was the worst father I have ever heard of, and I will go to my own grave believing that. But this most immovable of men found it within himself to change.” (page 392—My Losing Season, Doubleday, 2002)
I have spent weeks with the book examining my own winning and losing, parenting and husbanding. I have measured again and again what I carried into my boyhood and from my boyhood into adulthood. I have been overwhelmed by writer Conroy’s description of being beaten and belittled. I am not surprised that he dealt with nervous breakdowns and did not do well in his first two marriages. My greatest surprise is that he survived at all, let alone became the man he became.
Ironic that I finished reading the book on Father’s Day. The book about basketball which disguised the main theme: becoming a man in spite of vicious, brutal fathering.
Pat Conroy’s father is said to have been the best basketball player ever to attend St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa. He brought the one-handed shot to Iowa.
“With my father’s great gifts, he could’ve taught me everything about basketball I’d need to know…. Instead, he taught me nothing, and I went to the Citadel not knowing what a pivot was or how to block out on a rebound or how to set a pick to free a teammate for a shot or how to play defense. A beautiful shooter, a fierce rebounder, a legendary defender, my father chose not to pass these ineffable skills on to any of his five sons. We grew up overshadowed by his legend and that legend did not lift a finger to help us toward any patch of light of our small achievements might have granted us.”
Growing up in such a house affected Pat Conroy’s view of marriage:
“The way I loved became bruised and disfigured—which is my fault and not Lenore’s, and I do not blame her for this. If Lenore had been a country, I would have married North Korea, this is how murderous, cut off, and isolated….”
Pat Conroy said,
“I could take my father’s fury and had proven that over and over during the long, forced march of my debased childhood: it was his laughter and mocking contempt that unmanned me completely, that I would do almost anything to avoid.” (239)
“He looked at me as he always did, as though the mere sight of me filled him with revulsion.”
So I come away from Father’s Day season with a fresh razor edge knowledge that there is nothing a father can do to wound or destroy kids more than practicing:
- Contempt—even disguised as teasing
- Withheld praise
- Lack of expressed affection
- Unhealed personal wounds and brokenness
“It…never occurred to me that I would carry my childhood in a backpack to spread its coarse havoc and discord far into my adult life.” (p. 393)
Consider Winston Churchill’s father who ignored his son, probably hated him. He rarely spoke to him and refused to acknowledge the frequent cries for attention. Young Churchill was shipped off to boarding school as if to get him out of his parents’ sight. One cannot hear this story without marveling that Churchill did not become a brutal, hateful person passing onto society and his own family what he had experienced from his father. Instead, he became a world leader and at the time of his death was deemed the “Greatest Man in the World.” He packed a different backpack.
Lord Randolph was a well-known politician who had a disease causing his brain to deteriorate. Young Winston did not know his father was ill. Had he known he could have filtered the savage emotional and verbal abuse. Instead, the rejection came at him full force.
It is said that Churchill made a choice. Instead of reacting and owning the constant negative evaluation, he chose to extend the best of his father. He made a choice. One of the first losses for the abandoned, neglected or abused is the ability to make choices. The self-survival instinct is to hide. The ability to choose—a profound ability.
Sorting through my backpack.
©2016 D. Dean Benton Writer, Wonderer