A Few Things My Dad Didn’t Like

May 21, 2012  |  Uncategorized

About a month ago I started a series of blog pieces entitled “A Few Things My Dad Got Right.” Shortly after the third and final installment went up, I got a long letter from my father that made it clear he felt blind-sided and hurt by the content of the posts. I immediately took the posts down so he and I could discuss them and figure out why something I had intended as a positive homage to the lessons he had imparted had struck him as an unfair, public and one-sided upbraiding of him as a human being.

Judging by our back and forth, it seems to me that my Dad felt like the pieces I wrote
were infused with resentment and more than a little selective memory. This couldn’t be more contrary to what I had intended but it’s very much a reminder for me that writing autobiographical material (especially material that endeavors to be very honest) means writing about other, real, people who may not like their personal, private lives dissected for mass consumption (or, at least, would like some say over how said dissection is done). This feeling is, no doubt, magnified by the fact that I am the lone voice in this particular pulpit and so it is my recollections (subjective and flawed as they no doubt are) that stand, unchallenged, as historical fact. That fact alone is probably unfair to anyone whose name appears on this blog (my wife most of all).

After a good deal of back and forth with my father, I’ve reposted the pieces in question (he was actually hoping I would do so, not because he’d suddenly agreed with their content but because he didn’t want to be seen as a censor).  With all this as preamble, I’ll be interested to see how they read to people who don’t know either of us very well (or know both of us, who knows).

I’ve read over the pieces half-a-dozen times since receiving my Dad’s original note. I’ve tried to be as objective as possible and, at this point, I’m satisfied I gave all of you an accurate portrayal of my father as he was back in the day. I very much hope that the message people took away in regard to his legacy as a father was, on balance, a positive one.  It’s a mixed review, no doubt, but the point of the pieces remains the same: only as a father myself am I able to see the important lessons I learned, even though I didn’t know I was learning them at the time.

That’s not how my Dad has seen it and the conflict we’ve had poses something of an
ethical dilemma for me. On the one hand, I can’t apologize for writing what I think is an honest and fair assessment of who he was when I was little.  I tried to paint a somewhat complex picture of a guy with his share of failings and his share of successes – whose parenting choices I both reject and replicate on a regular basis. On the other hand, I want him to understand that I value the relationship we’ve developed in my adult years and that these days I think of him as a loving, warm and generous friend and grandfather. (indeed, if my kids could read the pieces I wrote, they would have a very hard time believing I was describing their Popop).

Striking the balance of those two ideas has been harder than I would have imagined. It remains, like most father/son relationships, a work in progress.


  1. The emotional complexity of your posts are something to recognize. The fact that it is indeed ongoing, an open wound, unresolved, is hard to deal with. But you are communicating, and that says a lot. Forgiveness on both sides is hard, an understatement. I wish you the best as you work on it. Hang in there!

  2. As someone who identifies to a large extent with your perspective, I found this to be a heartening portrayal of a father-son relationship. When I think back to my childhood, I often first think of the things that I wish had been done differently, or – more accurately – things that I like to think I would have done differently. Both my parents did a lot of things that I don’t agree with, but they also did a lot right. It seems to me that our primary function in life is to raise our children to be better off than ourselves in as many ways as possible. This has to involve evaluating the way in which we were raised and choosing what to keep and what to throw away. I don’t think many people could conclude anything other than that their parents did the best they could in raising their children.

    Yours is a touching portrayal of a man from our parents’ generation who did his best to impart the things that he felt were important to him. I did not read your words so much as an attack on his parenting but as a portrayal of how society and parenting has changed over the years. And as you stated many times, there are many lessons and methods that your father used which you feel serve the job perfectly well.

    It’s too bad that your father was hurt by what you wrote. It felt to me as though you had written this thoughtfully and with love for him. I hope he rereads your entries after a while and considers the appreciation in your voice.

  3. Mary Overman-Wilson

    As a child with a parent of your Dad’s generation and one who was slightly older I often wonder how my parenting of my now 30 something children was influenced by their parenting. Today I was thinking of your Dad and thought let’s check JD’s blog… and there he was.

    I am one of many I’m sure that follow your blog whom you don’t know. But, I feel I know you. I met your Dad in the early 90’s when I was a single parent to 3 precocious teenagers. I think he has always been in awe of my ability to juggle my life and parent consistently. Your Dad is your biggest fan JD. His biggest flaw is not being able to see past the intent of words spoken or written without making it personal.

    I lost my Dad last year and among the hardest things I had to do as the oldest of 4 siblings was helping them write his eulogy. You see my parents raised two generations of kids and my younger two siblings had a completely different parenting experience than us two older kids. They got to experience the father who went to soccer games and swim meets not the one who traveled 2 of 4 weeks a month for business. They experienced a man who mellowed and saw the outcome of his parenting or lack there of. He got a second chance to be a parent and those lessons he carried over into his experience as a grandparent. As a parent go with your heart, it will never lead you a stray.

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