Please don’t think that I do not face the same challenges you do. That is to misunderstand why I stay spiritually healthy. I’m not free of suffering, I have accepted it. As a child in a toy store who could not conceive of the concept of money, we all cried because we could not keep the toy in our hands. But as we aged and learned about paying for things, we stopped crying because we realized it does not change the fact that we still cannot have the toy. I’m just like that about almost everything in life, not just toys.
One of the most challenging things in life for me is when a parent is cruel to their child. It’s almost as though I’ve been stabbed it pierces me so much. It’s as though my brain ripples out in every direction, calculating all of the extrapolations of the words or action. I can see much of how the person’s ego will suffer in an attempt to resolve the unresolvable. Because there never was anything wrong with the kid, there was something wrong with the parenting. It’s okay to not-like your parents, or even just some aspect of their parenting. The simple fact is some of them were very poorly equipped for the job.
I recently heard a story that made me wince in pain. It involved two sisters I know who live near one of my family members. Their parents emigrated from India, and their father holds a very traditional patriarchal view of families: the man is the boss and the women do as they’re told. I remember when my family would have dinner at their house, it always struck me as strange and uncaring that the man would completely ignore every woman at the table, even if they were his family members. In fact, he seemed to treat them the worst.
Every relationship has its arguments and in summer time people have windows open and they forget what they’re doing in the heat of a moment. So over the years my family has been made aware that the husband has had a gambling problem, he had to learn to control himself because of repeated cases of domestic violence—and absolutely worst—his two daughters confided to a member of my family that their father had permitted them to be molested!!! They were taken to a day home where they were being touched inappropriately—they told their father—and his only pathetic, cowardly reaction was to say “tell him to stop.” And he continued to drop off his two young daughters into that terrifying situation. It angers me to think about that so I have to focus a great deal to make sure I don’t entertain those thoughts.
Despite the challenges of growing up with a parent that is almost completely self-absorbed, (and another who is loving but obsequious), both of these young girls have grown up into remarkable women. Some people let adversity destroy them, others use it to temper their steel—because it is true that what does not kill us often makes us stronger.
So the two daughters are very compassionate, quick to respond to people in need and they are both very brave about standing up for what they believe in. It’s blackly comic to me that their father has referred to each of them as failures. Because they are both leaders in their fields, they never beat up anyone, or gambled away anyone’s money, and they certainly would never in a billion years deliver their child to a horrible situation.
There’s two kinds of bad parents. Ones that leave and ones that stay. The ones that leave do a strange sort of favour to their children. They still exact a price, but it’s better than the price for the bad ones that stay. Because they help to create two kinds of people in our world: Primarily they create the egos that suffer the most, although thank goodness in a minority of cases they actually create people who use their pain to find clarity. Those people can easily see that there never was anything wrong with those two girls. But that dad would really benefit by stopping his judgment of others, his quoting of religious texts and his giving of advice, and he could do a little more introspection about how grateful he should be that his family even associates with him. Because after how he’s acted, even talking to him like a civil human being is actually an act of love.
I don’t want to leave you worrying about the two girls. They’re actually both quite amazing. One’s used her remarkable career success to move her to somewhere far enough away that she doesn’t have to deal with her father, and her sister changed when she had kids. She didn’t want to expose her own daughters to the type of behaviour that her mother will accept. She didn’t want her daughters to learn to be disrespected like that. And she also didn’t want her daughters to ever have to listen to any parent telling their child that they are a failure. So she simply doesn’t see her parents that often.
So how do we forgive the father? I know—it’s a tough one. It’s hard to see the value in violent, untrustworthy, insulting and otherwise cruel behaviour—and it agonizes people even more when it’s coming from someone who’s very pious. But this is when you need a big-picture view. This is when you need to understand how you fit in to everything else. As Shakespeare said, “Nothing is good or bad only thinking makes it so.” So this is merely cause and effect.
Think of the bad dad as the Yin, then the Yang is that his actions helped create two vibrant, brilliant and capable young women. Because they had to climb out from under that rock of bad parenting, they became stronger, more flexible and more capable. They are loving to their own children and they are courageous in their daily lives. They will have happier lives than their father’s. It’s just a shame that they will have to stand vigilant to ensure that their consciousness does not get infected with his lame and unjustified opinions.
If you had a parent who undermined rather than built up your confidence, then please remember to stay vigilant. Do not choose to replay crazy, useless opinions about yourself in your thoughts. There are tons of people whose personalities are totally inappropriate for parenthood so do not replay their judgments of you. The problem isn’t with you. You can still love them, no problem—I encourage it. Just don’t look to them for approval.
And if you’re the parent and you’re worried about how to be the best parent you can be, then just remember that if you have a child you can get every single thing wrong and you’ll still win if you just ensure one thing: that your child knows that they are loved and accepted just as they are. Because if they begin growing from a solid foundation of unconditional love, they’re sure to be off to the very best kind of start in life.
With love to you all, s
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.