August 20, 2012 § 46 Comments
I have only hazy memories of my paternal grandfather. Grey hair, angular face. A serious man. He sent his son to a military boarding school- to toughen the boy up, I imagine.
I have vivid memories of my father. Cropped salt and pepper hair, dark eyes. Whip smart, a great writer, socially graceful, desperately in love with my mother.
My father taught me many things- how to play tennis, how to catch and eat blue crabs, how to take care of dress shoes. But amidst all the great and wonderful things, he taught me something else- something wrong and terrible.
In our house there was a right way and a wrong way to do everything- mow the grass, get a haircut, drive the car, park the car, pack the car- you name it. I knew that because of my father’s appraising, critical, and relentless gaze.
When something wasn’t done the right way, I received that lacerating look, sometimes joined with a few short brutal words, but mostly just the look. More than enough.
I learned the lesson. For most of my life, I was ruthless in my self-appraisal. Each moment, each choice, each thing. Right way, wrong way. Judging, judging, judging.
I turned it outward too. Judging everyone and everything around me. A ferocious critic of all I surveyed.
The worst thing, the most terrible thing, was to see the reflection of my critical gaze in the people I love the most- to understand how I had fed their self doubt all those years. How I had harmed those I loved so deeply.
Father to son, father to son, on and on. Our affliction.
Now I know. No right way/wrong way, no judging, no look. Just to love and to be.