Changing ones mind can be difficult. In this instance it took more than thirty years to even review my position. A change quickly followed and the relief was immense. Over a few weeks I overturned an opinion that I had held about the qualities of my father as a parent which I had been propagating for years and which was both inaccurate and unjust.
My father, Harry died in 1983 aged 71; my mother, Patience in 1987 at 77. In the years before their deaths, so right up to my forties, I would say that it was Harry who had imbued me with the characteristics that made me who I am and to whom I felt indebted. In contrast, I saw Patience as a manipulative, dominating and often remote mother who made my childhood difficult and whose qualities I mainly rejected.
After their deaths, these opinions changed. Suddenly, and for no obvious reason, if asked to comment, I focussed on the image I had of their behaviour in their later years. My description would not now be from the perspective of my childhood but as I saw them as professional adults. I found myself expressing nothing but admiration for Patience who, as an actress I saw as forthright, fearless, spontaneous and entertaining. While Harry, who was a research scientist, I would describe as weak, frightened, timid and un-adventurous. Thus his stock fell very low.
The change back to seeing Harry again as a caring, nurturing and admirable ‘Dad’ who looked after, even protected me as I was growing up, came during the recent Easter break.
My French teacher was away on holiday leaving me with several, homework-free weeks so enough time to sort through the clutter in my study that had been accumulating for years! The contents of cupboards, cabinets, draws and shelves all needed sifting and, with luck, perhaps I might even find my missing will!
In my search I found countless out-of-date guarantees, bank statements, receipts, demands and bills. I also unearthed once-treasured toys and trinkets together with electrical, computer and desktop gizmos whose time had now passed.
Sorting out the clutter was, by and large, a mechanical affair; handling dusty envelopes full of personal memorabilia was altogether more challenging. There were photographs, letters, school reports, newspaper cuttings, childhood drawings and my ‘baby’ book – all stored in files labelled ‘Joe 1’ and ‘Joe 2’. Together they covered events up to my early twenties. Many of the contents were new to me, others were familiar but forgotten. Whatever their histories, my time looking and reading was emotional. They brought back very powerful memories – even feelings – of me as a child, and as I examined them I inevitably thought about, and reassessed my relationship with my parents, primarily my father, to whom I had stayed close for years.
As I sat and reflected, I was reminded that I was a dreamy child hampered by dyslexia – unrecognised at the time – which meant that for years I struggled to make sense of reading, writing and learning generally. I was also reminded how it was my father who took me to school, wrote letters and visited my teachers to try to resolve my learning difficulties; who spent time at home helping me to read and write – these were often tense affairs; who was instrumental in my education generally right up to my university choices. It was he who he taught me to swim, ride a bicycle, tell the time and play chess; introduced me to the principles of science, nature and even the classics; took me to lectures; regularly sent me postcards; embraced my various inventions – even applying for patents for them on my behalf; and who immediately ‘adopted’ Rohan, my future wife, from the moment I introduced her.
Harry was the bedrock of my childhood; reliable, calm, ever-present, protective, hardworking and a role model, and all this came back to me as I was sorting. By contrast, as I sat in my study I remembered how Patience, who could be loving, remained manipulative, unfathomable and difficult and, because of her late nights at the theatre, often absent or “not to be disturbed”.
Although it is now too late, I owe my father an apology for distorting his character traits after he died – to describe him as weak or frightened when he was bringing me up was so wrong. Restoring his rightful image has brought great relief. Perhaps re-evaluation of ones parents from time to time should be made obligatory.
As for my last will and testament – it was never found, and I finally had to get a new copy from my solicitor. To help me out next time, it has been carefully placed in a file labelled ‘My Will’ and placed just behind ‘Joe 1’ and ‘Joe 2’.
The illustration shows a photo of me with my elder sister Susan, my younger sister Sarah and my parents Harry and Patience. We are on a beach in Dovercourt when I was around 9 years old.
For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Sarah, Thierry, Rohan and Vivien.
20 thoughts on “My Father’s Image Reviewed and Revised”
Joe I loved this blog of yours…. touched my heart!!! Your father sounds wonderful!!
I have just sorted thro same archival things and read letters my father wrote to my mother when they were young and “in love” … I think reviewing one’s childhood goes on and on throughout life.
Love Elona xx
Dear Elona, Thank you for your kind comment. I wonder if the reviewing you assume goes on also looks at relationships with other members of the family – it should! Joe.
I was very touched by your honesty regarding your relationships with your parents.
I think it is a good idea to review relationships in general.
Dear Grace, Thank you so much for your kind comment. I fully agree – it would seem remiss of us not to review family relationships on a regular basis. Joe
Your blog was very moving and as always, made me think, I’ve often reflected on my parents and how they treated me and my siblings. There are clear differences in the way I felt about them, what I acknowledge is that their behaviour was a consequence of their own personal relationship and experiences of life where there were many struggles. What I do know, is that they tried to do the best they could… and I’m me because of them!
Dear Carolyn, What happens over time is important. As I see it, we start judging our parents when we are young. Then, the views we take may not be balanced. As we get older and more experienced our judgements about them change and probably go on changing throughout life. I suppose it is a process we should work at rather seriously. Love, Joe
I agree with other commentators – original and powerful. What also struck me is your description of your changing views from childhood, to early adult and now late adulthood. My views of my parents haven’t changed over time and I shall now reflect more carefully on that. Ian
Dear Ian, Thinking it through, it would be odd if our views did not change over the decades – they do for practically everything else in life! Joe
How judgmental we are when we are young! When I saw the photo of your father I thought what a lovely, kind and gentle face he had, and that fits your description of him as a gentle, caring father. We are all products in some ways of our environments, but also of our genetic makeup. We forget sometimes that is also true of our parents!
Dear Robin, Many thanks for your comment. In reply, all I can say is that I agree. When I was decluttering my study, all I thought of was the nurture component. Love, Joe
Thank you for openly sharing the fruits of your inner work and for doing justice to your father and to yourself.
I have a gift I would love to offer you whenever you are free.
Dear Simon, Thank you for your kind comments. I have to assume that accepting your unspecified offer will not represent a conflict of interests!
Dear Simon, Your gift was unexpected, kind and with no hint of a conflict. So thank you very much. I should explain the position to confused readers – unbeknownst to me, one of Simon’s professional interests covers dyslexia. He is a neighbour and over the fence he spent a good ten minutes introducing ideas new to me about the condition and what he had to say was both helpful and fascinating. It was, indeed, a real gift. Thanks again, Joe
Hi Joe, congratulations on your latest blog which can’t have been easy to write. I think we all find ourselves revising memories and perspectives on our parents as we get older – I feel I understand and sympathise with things in my parents’ lives which when younger I took for granted, or judged. It then seems so sad that one can’t talk with them about that ….
I am sure Harry was all that you remember – but that there were also the positives in Patience;s role as a parent as you had previously judged, as well as her remoteness and bossiness, in their conflicted relationship.
I can see that others have responded in similar vein so didn’t want this posted, but just to say how much we enjoy and appreciate what you wrote, as well as your blogs in general.
Dear Vanessa, Many thanks for you comments and observations. The picture is becoming clearer – many people would like to re-think how they related to their parents but don’t quite know where to start. Love, Joe.
I finally found out how to make a comment about your blogs .
I always find them very interesting but this one moved me enormously hence my efforts to make a comment.
I will try to change opinion about my parents as it looks very beneficial but at the moment I have a very fixed opinion of them . There are so many unknowns may be too many …
Dear Guillemette, I am delighted that you managed to post a comment – congratulations. Can I hope that there will be many more. Love,Joe.
Great to be back on your blogs.
A thoughtful and sensitive story. I think I mostly felt very positive about my parents who you knew well. I know at times I felt things were unequal but this did not last long. I also had a mother who was often home late but not as late as your.
I well remember suggesting the house needed tidying to my mother as I had a boy friend coming, and her answer was you can do it if it worries you. Her priority was to go on a picnic or boating with the family. I had to agree with her that family time is more important.
You are probably aware our son also has dyslexia as did his Macleod grandfather. In fact all those male grandchildren have it, and the subsequent difficulties it seems to engender.
One idea is that the brain are just mentally wired differently. This can be a plus and a minus.
The Macleod grandfather was a neurologist and highly respected, and thinking different was a help I think.
Dear Heather, First, nice to see you back. Second, it sounds like you had rather less turmoil than surrounded my upbringing. You were lucky. There is a debate going on about the affect of family difficulties and tensions on children. I believe that, In general, children are fairly hardy and pull through. Joe
Thanks Joe. I believe I had a very good childhood and was lucky.
If that is the right word. Some may say blessed. My father in law commented you do not chose you parents, and would you chose to be born if you could be born any where in the world to any one. What a thought!!