To Flip or Not to Flip (Part 3)
To Flip or Not to Flip (Part 3)
I’ve done more apologizing in the past year than at any other time in memory. To Jenna, yes, but mostly to women who have taken the emotional risk of being with me while I’m still committed to Jenna. At some point, I may have to apologize to my son, who could very well want to know among other things how his father could be so careless in his relationship with his mother. And perhaps I’ll explain the broader idea of partnering attempted by his parents. Or, perhaps I’ll skip that part, and say sorry, say it over and over again, in perpetuity. I could do that. I would, if that were what he needed.
Mostly there’s the pressure to not have to apologize for things that have not yet happened but could very well if I were to stay on this path. I’ve come into my home at times, and thought, Right this ship or else, and then I’ve opened a newspaper instead of making the decisions that would best serve my family, and quite possibly, myself. Well, do I want this home to fail? I don’t believe I do. But how am I to interpret my actions?
“What do you want?” my father asked me one morning over the phone. I was in New York, and he was speaking from his home in Los Angeles. “More fulfillment? We all have needs that go unfulfilled. No matter how you choose to live, this remains true.”
“Fine. But you have to fight against stasis.”
“Stasis is an illusion.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. Jenna and I had been seeing other women for about five months by then, and we were still hopeful that we could pull this life off. “Anyway, I’m talking about going forward with Jenna. Right now, this is what ‘going forward’ looks like. I think, for us, the alternative is much more destructive.”
“More destructive than this?”
“This is a controlled forest fire.”
“Uh-huh.” My father didn’t want to deal in metaphors. “Once you invite this trouble in, you can’t just politely ask it to leave.”
“Who says I’ll be polite. Besides, I didn’t invite this trouble in. It’s more like a termite infestation.”
“I thought you said it was a controlled forest fire?”
“I guess it’s somewhere in between.”
“In between a termite infestation and a controlled forest fire?”
“Yep. Sounds about right.”
To be sure, my father was just concerned. Understandably so. And yet I could detect a degree of anger in his voice. And because of it, I could only think of how he’d been married three times and had missed the better part of raising three of five sons, and that he couldn’t bear to watch me struggle in this way. Of course, for him, as any child to a parent, I was a mirror. One in whose reflection he’d always liked seeing himself. And now? Well now, in my image, he didn’t look as good.
There’s nothing odd about it, really—if you didn’t see your image in your children, you would abandon them at birth. Seeing yourself, however, you stick around, care for and keep them alive. In time, a child picks up on these cues, takes what’s similar about himself and his parent and exaggerates these similarities in an effort to remain in the parent’s favor. This mirroring goes on until death intercedes. In fact, between parent and child, it is the stuff of continuity, longevity, and closeness.
Come to think of it, the key to a successful relationship with a parent is probably very simple: A child must figure out what kind of mirror Mom and Dad prefer most, and then hold it up before their faces so that they can enjoy their own image. Reflect the person the parent would most like to see, otherwise, prepare to be starved of love.
My father and I have always gotten along well. But what differentiates me from my siblings, specifically those closest to me in age, is that I’ve shown my father the most forgiveness concerning his past. I like to think my forgiveness is real. But then it could all be the basis of a mirror, the one I learned about early on: it’s the one in which my father most prefers to see himself.
I no longer feel that my father and I are having that conversation about his past, our past, but, inevitably, inescapably, we are. I want to afford him the right to be concerned. And yet, I can’t separate his concern for me from his concern for himself. My ear won’t do the work. With the mirror tilted this way, I am left to feel less forgiveness about the past. I want to put this mirror down. In fact, I thought I had already. Then I’m reminded that despite the wish to do so, you don’t ever get to put down the mirror. You have no choice but to carry it.
I wonder, should my son one day require apologies for any of the decisions I’ve made, just who I’ll see reflected back at me in his mirror? Will I need him to show me the kind of forgiveness I’ve shown my father? And if he can’t offer it, what will I do then? Will I look away? Or, will I be able to see through the mirror to where he is?