Fathers and Sons — the relatio

Fathers and Sons — the relationship isn’t always easy

18 years on from the passing of his own father at a young age, Brian Keith reflects on the on-going challenge of being a ‘good enough’ dad to his six boys…

Fathers and Sons — the relatio

This past Monday marked 18 years since my father passed away; in the Jewish tradition, this day is known as the Yahrzeit.  His death at a young age was an undoubted tragedy – Dad passed away less than three months after the birth of his first grandchild, our eldest son.  Had he been alive today, he would have been blessed – like my mother – with 11 wonderful grandchildren.  Without doubt, this thought is the greatest personal sadness of my life.

My father and I had a somewhat complex relationship, much of it the direct consequence of his role in ending the marriage with my mother when I was 12 years old.  And though I’ve resisted the temptation thus far, I can no longer withhold referring to two brief passages from my recently published book.

Almost unavoidably, as I grew older, if not wiser, the distance between my father and me widened.  And although I didn’t fully understand it at the time, I was beginning to grapple with some very difficult and deep feelings towards one of the two people who loved me most in the world.  I was becoming angry with my father.  Soon, as so often happens, that anger transformed itself into one of the most insidious forces that I believe a human being can experience – resentment.

It was only many years after his death that I resolved to let go of the resentment that was threatening to derail me and my relationship to my father, even posthumously.  It took a long time, but eventually I came to realise that Dad had been trying his best, and that my views of what he had and had not done were exactly that – just my views.

My negative feelings towards my father and how he had handled us in the aftermath of the divorce were obfuscating other more joyful emotions and memories.  These were preventing me from having a more neutral, less jaded view of a person who, for all his faults and mistakes, was fundamentally a good, kind, moral and caring human being and father.  Most of the time, he had tried to do what was right: often he succeeded, sometimes he failed. 

My father was 53 when he died, exactly 10 years older than I am now.  That’s not so far away.  And the older I get, the more flawed I realise I am; despite my good intentions, I am not always the father I wish to be.  This realisation has contributed towards my determination over the last few years to use the occasion of the Yahrzeit to focus not on what my father got wrong (or at least what seemed wrong through the very unbiased ideas of a son), but rather, to recall the many admirable qualities that made him, for all his flaws, a very special man.

And it’s got me to wondering how my children will remember me after my death. (There’s no immediate plans for that a far as I’m aware, so hopefully that’s still some way off.)  Will they recall an often fatigued, frequently irritable, sometimes intolerant Dad?  Or will they remember a man who was fully committed to their well-being, who was filled with feelings of immense pride towards his boys, who consistently arranged fabulous family holidays (the time we forgot our passports to Gibraltar aside), and who never gave up on his dream of playing goalkeeper for Manchester United, despite being 5 foot 7, in his early 40’s and unable to play on Saturdays?

Well, I’ve learned from my own Dad’s passing that there is only a limited dimension of this that I can hope to control.  They’ll choose – they do choose – to see me through their own eyes.  Each of my six sons will decide for themselves, in their own time, in their own way, what it is that I have managed to share with them that they will take forward in their own lives.  It is only within my power is to do my best and to offer them the best of me that I can.  And trust that their mother speaks well of me when I’m not around.

To see more of Brian’s blogs and his newly published book, go to www.briankeithbooks.co.uk