10 ways I’m better thanks to my father

photo credit / flickr by Sam Howzit

Awareness is knowing who influences your life, your behavior, your decisions, etc.

Whom do you emulate? Whom do you reject? To what degree? What parts or characteristics?

Do you have a choice?

Can you take what’s good and reject what’s ugly? Or maybe you subconsciously take the combination of the good and the ugly?
If you have a serious problem with yourself or with your relationship psychologists ask you to search inside yourself and consider those possible and very often invisible influences. They ask you to come up with say five characteristics which you, in your opinion, ‘inherited’ from your mother / father figure. Then they ask you to come up with five characteristics which you (consciously/ or subconsciously) developed as a way of saying “I’ll never be like that.”

Our parents influence who we are — our attitude, our worldview, our parenting, our people skills, our relationships. Many, many things.

The genes they passed on to us are only one part of the equation. The rest? Their life story, fears, choices, attitudes, worldview, people skills, relationships.

In my case the genes will forever be a mystery for me (my parents are adoptive parents and I made a decision not to inquire about my biological parents). The rest I can do.

We do things on a daily basis which can be attributed to the way we were brought up. We don’t even think about them. Very often they’re beyond our control. They just happen.

The only way we can gain some control is through better understanding. This understanding is called awareness.

Unfortunately we rarely think about it. And we have little to no control whatsoever. Our days are packed with tasks, chores and meetings. Just as our parents’ days once were. And it goes on and on. Inevitably we become the combination of the good, the ugly and some characteristics that we ourselves develop.

Right now I’m going through a serious crisis. I’m on a verge of divorce. The psychologists who we (my wife and I) consulted assigned this very task to us.

That’s how I came up with two lists — five ways I’m like my father and five ways I’m unlike my father.

Ways I’m like my father

1. Entrepreneurial

When my father lost his job he and three of his colleagues decided to establish their own company and my father run this company for a greater part of my adolescence and young adulthood.

However it’s not his transition alone that must have sparked entrepreneurialism in me. Entrepreneurialism must run in my blood.
As a 6th grader I, entirely on my own initiative, ‘opened’ a “shop” and would sell various sweets and drinks to kids directly from my bag and was quite successful (sometimes kids would buy stuff with deferred payment, I kept track of it — it was a lot of fun). Until the teachers reported me to the schoolmaster who told me and my parents that one official shop is enough and I should close my “business”. My partner in crime was my mom who would regularly help my with supplies. And that’s how I made my first money which I could spend freely.

2. Able to enjoy life.

My father was something of a mysterious contradiction to me. He was a bitter guy — it seemed to me that he was not happy with his life but at the same time he was able to enjoy life as much as he could. He was quite passionate about some of his interests and he was constantly exploring these areas.

I too have my passions and I have the ability to enjoy life. Ever since I remember I was passionate about certain things and I was able to enjoy life as much as I could. But I’m anything but bitter.

3. Good sense of humor

Despite being bitter my father had a good sense of humor. Isn’t it weird? A good sense of humor is also my hallmark. At least that’s what people say about me.

4. Penny wise.

My father would often berate us for not switching off the lights when we walked from one room to another and he would put a great emphasis on small everyday opportunities to save pennies here and there.

Neither I like to lose pennies (I sign up to the philosophy that they add up) and am on a lookout for saving opportunities in my household.

5. Rebel. Don’t yield to peer pressure

Whenever there was an opportunity to have a different opinion my father would have one. Stupid or not, didn’t matter. He liked to be viewed as different, or even better, controversial.

I like to think different too and don’t hesitate to question even the most established views and theories. My guess is that my father probably had no idea how valuable this ability became recently.

Ways I’m unlike my father

1. I care for people’s feelings. I’m not hot-tempered

My father didn’t care much about the feelings of other people. His tongue was sharp as a blade, and he would leave numerous people with lots of cuts on their souls. He lacked the skills needed to reconnect with people after a breakup. He was a master of something to the opposite effect — he was like a social ticking bomb, ready to explode at any time. There probably wasn’t a single topic which was actually ‘safe’. If he found some opinion or point of view which was opposite to the one he held, you could sense a storm coming (sometimes a fierce one).

I hated this part of him and I decided that I’ll never be like this. And I’m not.

2. I’m not pound foolish

Besides being penny wise my father was also pound foolish. Many a time he would lose significant amounts of money due to his spontaneous and unfortunately often reckless decisions. He would overpay when buying things and undercharge when selling them. It was a gut-wrenching practice on his part.

I’m deliberate and very careful when planning my spending and selling stuff.

3. I can admit when I’m wrong

I cannot recall a single time when my father, or my mother for that matter, offered me an apology, let alone a heartfelt one.

This is one of the few things I’ll probably never forget. It still bothers me. It’s not that I feed myself with this grievance — I’d actually prefer to get over it, but because it has to do with instances of injustice (as I saw them) and because they happened a lot, I simply cannot get it out of my head.

Risa Pierson once said: “Tell a kid you’re sorry they’re in shock.” This statement by a teacher with 40+ years of experience with kids allows me view my parents’ inability to offer me apology as something normal among parents. What I mean by that is that I don’t hate them for that. I assume once they were also kids who never, ever heard the word “sorry” from their parents.

I’m grateful that at some point in my life I took interest in alternative dispute resolution and negotiation which helped me understand the importance of true, heartfelt apology in interactions with people. It is still something I’m learning because this isn’t an easy thing to master.
4. I take responsibility. I fight inertia.

A thing that stuck with me even after my fathers’ death were his comments about his marriage. Often he would complain that it was his mother’s idea that he married my mother. It was weird to hear a man in his fifties and sixties complaining all the time about his mother’s decision which, in his own words, ruined his life. As much as I refused to pity him, I also resolved that I will make my own choices and take responsibility for the outcomes.

Anybody can say “My parents and the events of my childhood shaped me, and I acted accordingly. I’m who I am mainly because of the house I grew up in. That’s me.”

In my opinion my father was such a parent.

I knew that for me saying it was not an option. I refused to be a parent who unconsciously copies the behavior of his parents. The scenario in which my son will have to seek to understand where my bad parenting habits and behaviors come from is simply not what I want. I bet there will be plenty other occasions in his life when he will be able to put into practice his ability to empathize with others. I want him to remember me for my conscious and continuous effort to be the best parent he could ever imagine. Not for capitulating to inertia.

5. I’m not bitter. I don’t complain. I choose myself.

I can tell for sure that the life my father had was not what he’d wished for. His marriage was something he regretted and often complained about. His unapologetic attitude and harsh behavior caused him a lot of everyday stress. It was extremely hard for him to not freak out about even the trivial things. And because he was in a constant blame mode he never even got close to choosing himself.

I know how to choose myself because I’ve already done it in the past. It feels great to know that I’m in charge of my life.