Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Honoring the 'rents

I’ve been thinking more about personality since yesterday, so wanted to offer this story that I wrote some time back about my dad. I’ll probably write more about it tomorrow.


“Honour thy father and thy mother.” When I was growing up, this was the peskiest commandment, particularly regarding my dad.

I didn't get along with him the same way I did with my mom. I felt he was impossible to talk to and didn’t really care what I thought. And, he had a million little idiosyncrasies that irritated me. Or, maybe they irritated me because of how I felt about him. As a result, a great deal of hurt built up in me over the years.

Our times together throughout my adolescence were tense. I left home as soon as I could and moved far away. Visits home were stressful. I didn't enjoy them, but just assumed this was normal.

That is, unless I had some reason to be thinking about the Commandments. Periodically my spiritual study would bring up that pesky #5. I would rationalize that since God is my true spiritual Father (and Mother), by obeying and honoring Him/Her I was covering the commandment spiritually. And certainly that is a good thing to be doing. Trouble is, that's not what the commandment says. It’s pretty clear it’s talking about respecting and honoring your human parents, and I just couldn’t.

The book Don’t Know Much about the Bible says that Commandment Five “was aimed at protecting the elderly and sick from being abandoned to the elements once they were no longer productive members of the tribe.” The outward observation of this today would be to acknowledge and bless your own parents. And I could do this with my mom, no problem—in fact, almost to a fault. Everything was very black and white—she was perfect, my dad was not even close.

It wasn't until years after leaving home that I began to spend a lot of time thinking about my family and trying to figure it all out. I was growing spiritually, finding out more and more about my relationship to God, and feeling more of that divine fathering and mothering in my life. I found myself writing a screenplay about my family, and unbeknownst to me, it was God’s way of helping me work out many of my deepest family issues.

At one point, I was writing a scene where the character based on myself was having an argument about my dad with another member of the family. As I typed the dialogue, I suddenly found myself putting these unexpected words into the family member's mouth—“You're just like him!" Typing as quickly as I could, I had the character representing me say, "No, I'm not!" as the family member stormed out of the room.

My hands recoiled from the keyboard as though stung. I had to contemplate this for some time to grasp what had just happened. Why had I typed that? Was I in any way like my dad? Had I adopted the things that most bothered me? Or maybe the things that bothered me most about myself were the things I was hardest on him about?

It was as if a searchlight illumined all my past interactions with my dad. We were a lot alike. We’re both bulldogs about having our way. We both hate waste, almost to the point of obsession—except he would do anything to save money and I would do anything to save time. He wanted to be obeyed without question; I wanted people to listen to me and do what I said as well. He wanted respect; and yep, I sure did, too. He felt deeply his responsibilities to family; my own family was growing, and I was devoted to them, too.

The very motivation for his life became clear to me as I understood how much it was like my own. And I finally saw, for the first time, my dad’s accomplishments. He had successfully raised four very diverse children and kept a marriage going for many decades. This was no small feat. Fixating on the foibles that annoyed me was completely disregarding all his hard work and what he'd given to our family.

And then I saw something new. I remembered things about my dad I'd always known but had forgotten. He was a leader in every organization he joined. He worked hard and was dedicated to family. He took his responsibilities seriously and fulfilled them. He loved history and small children. He valued church and community and actively participated in both.

Guess what? I did, too. Every single one of those things is prominent in my own life.

Suddenly I realized I was honoring my father—with my very life. I was living a life that embodied the values he held dear. My siblings were doing this as well, each in their own way. We are testaments, monuments if you will, to our dad—and to our mom, too.

And another revelation—in honoring my parents this way, I am indeed honoring God as the divine Parent of us all. I like this idea from Science and Health: “Father-Mother is the name for Deity, which indicates His tender relationship to His spiritual creation.” When I acknowledge the good that came to me through my parents, I’m acknowledging this good as an expression of God’s love for me. And I’m recognizing that the personal quirks that might need smoothing—or just enjoying!—are not all there is about either of my parents, or about myself. We are each unique creations of the same infinite Father-Mother. All we have to do is enjoy each other. Dad didn’t create me—he expressed God’s love to me.

When I think with a long view about our family, I realize each generation has built on the progress of the one before. Each generation lived a life that’s a testament to the hard work of the one before. What that means to me is if I appreciate and honor what my parents have done, I can in effect start where they left off rather than doing it all from scratch. And my kids can do the same.

That really is honoring God as well. For loving where we've come from allows us to love where we're going.

My dad and I get along great now. I love spending time with him. And now that I can see more clearly, I can feel his love for me, too.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 7/11/2006 10:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura--what a sweet blog today! Another way I think many of us end up (unconsciously, maybe!) honoring our parents is in our choice of spouse. How many times have we heard "Men end up marrying their mothers!" (or women, their dads.) Those of us attracted to partners who express the same qualities as our parents are honoring them, whether we want to or not!

I was struck by this recently, when my daughter (with both affection and distain) said about her prom date, "He's just like Dad--he insists on being all gentlemanly." Since her dad (my husband)is "all gentlmanly" like MY dad, it made me see how much we end up appreciating--or honoring, if you like--qualities we see in our parents.


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