Do we ever really know our parents?

October 31st 2022

Recently I have had a question pop up. Is it possible to really know your parents while they are living?

I have been asking a few of my friends who’s parents have passed away if they felt like they knew their parents more after they passed. The overall answer is, yes. I wonder why that is? I have made a few guesses.

As long as we are the children we never stop being that and so we can see them as just people.

As their kids we only want to see one side of them.

It isn’t often that we talk to our parents as friends or co-workers.  We don’t ask them origin questions about childhood, mistakes, what they wish they had done.

We don’t talk to their friends or hang out with them in that way to see that side of them.

Having been married more than once and thinking, no believing that I really knew another person after years of living in the same house, I can honestly say I am still getting to the know the person I am married to.  I am still finding out new things about him and a regular basis. People are complex, compound and continuously evolving I don’t think we ever really know other people or know ourselves. It is kind of fascinating. I think we always see what we want to see when it comes to people we really love.  I think that is how connections work, the more connect maybe the less we can be objective.

Because I experienced my father as emotionally distant and controlling I wasn’t able to see the other sides of him. As we go through his possessions and piece together a way of moving forward without him I think we each find out more and more about the layers of him. For me going back to the place where my father left behind his ability to show love and receive love is where I am finding the answers. The summer of 1970 and his enlistment in the Army. To hear people talk about the person he was before that time and the person he was when he came back is like talking about night and day. Two very different things. With his passing people are opening up with stories of his youthful adventures.  He was an ADHD boy growing up on a farm. There was a ton of mischief for him to get into.  From starting the outhouse on fire, to becoming a master marksman (I can only guess all of the things he shot and killed in the grove.) I have read a couple of the letters he sent to his parents from Vietnam and I wept for the man we all lost in that war. I have seen the photos of him laughing and smiling through basic training and his wedding to my mom. He starts out happy in the photos of my childhood, just a year after his return home, and then you watch him fade away in the photos. Life and nightmares of a war wearing him down, shutting him down. It is interesting to be putting different pieces of the puzzle, that was my father, back together again.

One thing is very clear about who my father was.

Family first

Flag and Country second

Work third

That never wavered, I learned to never question that. It was never not clear to anyone looking from the outside into his life.

One thing I am admiring today about my dad is how strongly he lived his values every day.  I don’t know that I can say the same for myself.