We’ve been talking about parents and how they affect the mental health of their children.
I really like this thoughtful this poem by Tony Hoagland, in which:
- a man enters therapy, and
- he comes to view his father as the source of his psychological problems.
- He calls his father and rails at him for all the supposed damage
- the older man’s inadequate parenting did.
- The son then realizes that he was too harsh.
- After all, his father is just a well-meaning, elderly man.
- His father even paid for his son’s therapy!
I especially love Hoagland’s realization that…
- there were “two fathers.”
- One is the real-life older man who is trying his best, while
- the other is a construct of the son’s imagination
- created by the son to heap blame on.
Maybe I overdid it
When I called my father an enemy of humanity.
That might have been a little strongly put,
a slight overexaggeration,
an immoderate description of the person
who, at that moment, two thousand miles away,
holding the telephone receiver six inches from his ear,
must have regretted paying for my therapy.
What I meant was that my father
Was an enemy of my humanity
And what I meant behind that
Was that my father was split
Into two people, one of them
Living deep inside of me
Like a bad king or an incurable disease –
Blighting my crops,
striking down my herds,
poisoning my wells – the other
standing in another time zone,
in a kitchen in Wyoming,
with bad knees and white hair sprouting from his ears.
I don’t want to scream forever,
I don’t want to live without proportion
Like some kind of infection from the past,
So I have to remember the second father,
The one whose TV dinner is getting cold
While he holds the phone in his left hand
And stares blankly out the window
Where just now the sun is going down
And the last fingertips of sunlight
Are withdrawing from the hills
They once touched like a child.
My interpretation: During the phone call, the son realizes that he is ranting at the “wrong” father. He has created an “enemy of his humanity,” living inside his head, in the form of his father. This “enemy” is not the son’s real father, but is instead a scapegoat explanation for the son’s issues.
What is your reaction?