cloak

A funny thing happened when my dad died: I started becoming him. It was subtle at first. I began using words and phrases he favored - even ones that had always annoyed me. Then it was body language. I'd catch myself making gestures or even facial expressions that were very him. It amused me, and made me a little sad that there wasn't anyone else around who would recognize it, and be equally amused.

Then it got more serious. It's unavoidable that we internalize our parents' personalities to some degree, and I had always looked at the world through my father's (cynical, skeptical, but generally appreciative) eyes. But all of a sudden I realized I'd gone beyond just thinking about life with my dad's values in mind and had started reacting to it in ways that he would. Even in those instances where, at earlier points in my life, I would have acted completely differently - more like me. Holy shit, I thought. I'm turning into my father. 

Weirder still: I liked that it was happening. I felt strangely proud of it. Even when it was nothing to be particularly proud of. I loved my dad, he was an amazing person in so many ways and sometimes I miss him so much I can't breathe - but he could be such an asshole. Stubborn, negative, anti-social, inflexible, and critical. But when I felt those qualities bubbling up through me, rather than stuff them back down I thought No. It's okay to be like this. Dad was like this. And he was perfectly happy.

The thing being, though, that he wasn't always. Perfectly happy, that is. Or perfect. And of course I know that but to admit it, to voice it, is to recognize that I might have some work to do myself. I might have to examine these pieces of my father that I cherish if only for the fact that all pieces, now gone, are to be cherished, and say Hmm yeah, probably don't need to keep that one alive. Because that's what I'm doing, by acting like him: keeping him alive.

So here I have this very odd conflation of love and respect for my father and a desire to not manifest his worser traits. It feels wrong - to reject any part of him, now that he's gone. It feels unfair and pointless. Respect and celebrate the dead and all that. And it's painful, because what no one told me is that grief, if you want it to be, can be a magical cloak to guard you against ugly, hard realities. It can protect you from your past and it can protect you from your present. In my case it's protected me against having to acknowledge - remember, really - that my dad and I actually had a difficult relationship marked by many hurtful conflicts. By lionizing him, by keeping the grief cloak wrapped tight around me, I can lie to myself about...well, anything having to do with him.

But the dead don't seek our forgiveness, they don't care how we judge them, and they don't know anything about the lies we tell. Lucky fucking bastards.