My post yesterday reminded me of a short essay I wrote about 5 years ago. It was a real revelation when these thoughts came to me. My view and opinion of my father was drastically and permanently changed.
by Ken Buch
I am beginning to think that the purpose in getting older is exactly the thing that irks me the most—seeing my father reflected back at me as I stare into the mirror or catching myself mimicking some unconscious, nervous thing that my father does or hearing some too-often used cliché of his come tumbling out of my mouth. But the purpose is not to make me lament that I have turned or am turning into my father for nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose is the occasional recollection of my father in these trivial things with the hope that the remembering will extend to the painful things. The hope that when I am impatient with my daughter that I will remember my father’s impatience with me; when I am hurtful through neglect or forgetfulness that I will remember my father’s hurtfulness; when I am selfish or irrational or obstinate or mean that I will remember my father’s selfishness, irrationality, obstinateness, and meanness not with the aim of self pity or condemnation but rather to comprehend just how fallible—how human—we both are despite our immense differences. I have “reasons” for acting as I do and while, in hindsight, they may seem poor indeed, they were, nonetheless, extremely compelling in the moment and may not justify but certainly explain my attitude and actions. And it is the similarity of those irrational reasons which I and my father share—reasons unknown and unknowable to all, even, sometimes, ourselves, but reasons nonetheless which exonerate us, to some extent, from the never ending blame piled on us by our progeny. My father is, just as I am, a mere mortal trying to get through each day with all the associated complications and preconceptions and limiting biases with which he attached himself to his world and is, therefore, no more worthy of resentment than I.
Did two things yesterday I haven’t done in a long time.
- I listened to Incomudro: Hymn to the Atman by Kansas
- I had a good, hard, loud cry.
This song is amazing—one of the best songs ever written. It has a great percussion solo (which, I think, rivals those by Neal Peart although it’s not as long as some of Peart’s) and the lyrics are incredible. This is how I listen to this song:
- I sit in a chair facing the speakers
- Turn the volume up to +10
- Put a piece of masking tape over the “0” and write a “1” on it so the volume goes “up to eleven”
- Sit back and feel like I’m in that old Maxell commercial (yes, I’m really old enough to remember it)
This is a powerful song with a powerful message. It describes a feeling of peace and wholeness that I very much lack these days and so it’s easy to let myself cry listening to it. And today was a very good cry. Very cathartic. A screaming, agonizing, visceral cry.
Perhaps the strong effect the song had on me today was due to the other music I listened to. My goal was to do some cleaning and I decided to go against my usual modus operandi and listen to upbeat music. It worked quite well for a while. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies are quite good bands to clean to. (Hmmm, I wonder if my father complex is showing just a bit?) But then I tried some bands that didn’t work so well because they reminded me of days gone by when my wife and I were very happy. (Note to self: I need to learn how to compartmentalize my feelings more effectively.) Then I spotted “Kansas” while flipping through my playlists and went for it.
Part of the “attraction” was the whole motif of “growing old.” Earlier today, I got upset at an inanimate object and kicked it wearing flip-flops so my right big toe hurts like the dickens and I now have a severe limp. My right arm aches with tendonitis. My eyes are getting worse. And so on. Combined with the cumulative effects of chronic stress, including muscle weakness and depression, I’m feeling quite ancient these days. I sometimes lament my aging body. My daughter (just turned 7) and I joke about it a lot—”My hip! My hip!” we whine as we limp around. (Although it is very nice to let the young’ins do the heavy lifting.)
But this is all part of growing old. And growing old is not just something to mourn. It’s also a celebration! For one, I’m getting closer to the end of my pain and suffering. For another, I’m really very glad that I don’t act quite as stupid as I did when I was younger.
It seems that as I age, the polar opposites become clearer and more pronounced. Aging gracefully is definitely a crash course in learning equanimity (or, at least, having equanimity shoved down your throat). Unless, of course, you want to fight it tooth and nail.
Anyway, it was really good to “let it all out” as they say. I will probably be doing that again, soon. In the meantime, I’m going to work on “holding the tension of the opposites” and building my equanimity.
Wish me luck!