Staying angry is too much damned work…

I’ve been visited by images of my Dad recently. I would see his head of white hair, curved shoulders and back, leaning forward from his blue wheelchair. I would see his chin resting on his palm, his eyes aimed at the ceiling, lost in a small moment of reverie, reliving a happy memory or some past triumph.

The images like this are from Dad’s “toothless tiger” phase of life, his last few years after a heart attack, five strokes, and a fractured hip had put him close to death, but not out of the game. But most of his life, and all his best years, were behind him at this point.

His age fascinated me, because he represented a distant generation, where all the values and the photographic evidence was rendered in black and white. He had an answer for everything, and spoke in powerful and confident tones about his beliefs and actions. He was right, godammit. He had always been right.

During the toothless tiger phase of his life, he was 65 and I was 20. He had become more of a survivor of his own misfortune than anything by this time, and his power was gone, lost due to personal neglect of his health.

Dad started smoking when he was about thirteen as I recall. Back in Prince Rupert in 1934, you rolled your own smokes if you couldn’t afford filtered cigarettes (which he told me were known as “Saturday Night Specials”). I’m willing to bet that he started with alcohol not long afterwards. Smoking and drinking always seemed to go hand-in-hand, and were seen as socially acceptable and expected as young men grew into adulthood.

Once, James Evan Love had been a provider, a force, a protector, and a threat within our family, but now he was definitely diminshed and pacified, and as I finally lived away from him, running my own life on my own terms, our relationship changed to be more like two grown men.

Over the years from 1983 to 1985, Dad transformed from an authority figure whom I feared and respected, to a broken old man whom I pitied and feared to lose. We’d both faced his mortality and each come away shaken. Now, embedded in his true sunset years, he seemed gentler and more light-hearted, and I think it was because he was actually much happier. Living alone in his care home represented a form of new start for him, a physical change of pace and place, a new world that might allow him to forget his past and to pretend to be something much simpler: just Jim.

To stand by an alcoholic and an abuser is to be faced with contradictions and hypocracy, and to oscillate between love and hate, respect and revulsion, and loyalty and betrayal. It’s a delicate balance to flip the mirror between hero and villian, with both images being absolutely true, yet relying on time, place, and intention for their wavering validity. It’s complicated.

Letting go of Hopeless Situations (or not)

Some situations are worth saving and working at, and some situations are dead-ends, or inevitable loops, that won’t change, grow, or improve.

Some people relationships are limited by how little two people can realistically share or give. Some parents are cold and selfish and don’t bond with their kids. Some people just want free therapy or a passive sounding board. Some people just grow apart due to a loss of shared context. Some friendships may be just circumstantial habits.

For my part, my need to be a helper, to care or empathize, always seems to have a limited lifespan. Eventually, I seem to hit a saturation point where something about the person I’m helping just pisses me off; the novelty of the new friend wears thin, and the fun or excitement trails off.

As a young person, my need to be helpful developed along with my need for approval. If I did good, I was good. This was tied to my parents mostly, and even after Dad and Mum passed on (when I was 23 and 29, respectively) I kept a connection to them in my heart and held on to my need to reach them, or to be good in their memory. I kept loving them from afar, even after they’d left for good. Sometimes, I felt afraid to let go of them. I didn’t want to lose what little that might still be there.

Initially, being able to help someone feels like a bonding, sharing thing. But after a while (years, usually), the thrill can fade and the situation can begin to feel one-sided, repetitive, or even exhausting. That lack of novelty could signal my slow decline in interest in another person. It also makes me wonder if I’m too passive or not making effort to be a good friend. Does it make me a bad friend, or a maybe just a poor judge of the kind of person whom I choose to befriend?

Circumstantial friendships which sometimes feel unsatisfying or one-sided to me will probably trail away after the shared circumstance changes. That kid who lived in your neighbourhood, whose company you once enjoyed, she or he who was your friend, drifted away after one of you moved to a different neighbourhood, remember? Situations never last forever, and it’s somtimes circumstance that drives mutual need. If a relationship doesn’t feel fun or invigorating anymore, maybe it should not be fed by me just to try and keep it alive so I can tell myself that I still have that friend or relationship. That sounds just a little needy, insecure, or pathetic on my part. In some ways, I always feel like a solitary man. Of course, that could be an excuse and a familiar fallback position for me.

In some cases, some relationships have been terminated permanently by me because of perceived offense or chronic selfish behaviour of the (now ex-)friend. In other cases, any offense is temporary and forgiven, because the relationship seems truly irreplaceable, or after months have passed to help me cool off.

Friendships are difficult and human hearts are precious and fragile things. Each relationship provides chances to see things through new eyes, or to reflect on one’s own behaviour. Each relationship is a learning opportunity to become a better, healthier person.