Dr. Greg: Accepting My Father
Dr. Greg explains why he didn't just give up on his father.
During the past few weeks, I have received a flood of correspondence from people telling me that they identify or are touched by my story. So much so that I have not been able to respond to every one, but please know I do see them and am extremely moved.
The journey I am on with my father on the show was in no way planned or scripted as some have questioned. It was sparked by some statements he made during that infamous 70th birthday lunch. After that lunch I was advised, even insisted, by several well-meaning strangers to do one of two things -- tell him off or never speak to him again. But, I knew neither one was the way to go for me.
Telling my father off would only have me doing the very same thing to him that he had done to me all of those years. All it would do would be to put him on the defensive and prove me the ungrateful child who had not grown up.
Cutting my father off was a strategy I took when I was in my early 20s and allowed me to establish my own life separate from him and other members of the family who were connected to him. But after 17 years, I had matured significantly and was able to reunite with him (and the others) when he was hospitalized with a nearly-fatal heart incident.
After the lunch, I recognized I had some demons of my own the needed to be exorcized. I began having nightmares that brought me back to those horrific times of my youth. So rather than running from those monsters, I put my own training to use and decided to face them. I called my dad and asked him to meet me to talk, but before we did, I went to a therapist so that I could get help in strategizing my approach.As you saw, rather than merely accusing him of something that he either would not or could not remember, I tried to appeal to his experience as a child that was not only characterized by physical abuse, but also neglect. This worked. It helped him to be less defensive and open up.
It also helped me because I truly understood something at that point. He would never allow himself to see himself as someone who would do to a child what was done to him. If he were to believe that, then he would not wish anyone else to speak with him again. That was my "AH-HA!" moment.
At that moment, I was able to let go of the hope that he would acknowledge what happened. I knew if he did he would not be able to live with himself. It was for his own psychological protection. At that moment, I was able to better see him as a human being and not a parent, a person who hurt me in the past, or even a pitiful soul. I just saw him as a person who struggles on this planet the same way I do. I was able to have both sympathy and empathy for him. In many ways, this was my redemption.
But as you see, everything isn't fixed in one meeting. Life goes on and problems still arise. And, even though I cannot forget those things that happened in the past, I can let go of much of the emotional hold it has had on me. Some can say this journey is about forgiveness, but too many misunderstand that word to mean an absolving someone of their sins. I don't have the power (or authority) to do that. Rather, I think a better word is acceptance.