Sins of the Parents visited upon their Children

Let’s talk about that song that we all love to hate: “Daughters” by John Mayer:

Fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers, who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too

– John Mayer, “Daughters”

They say that sometimes when you hate something, it’s just because that thing reminds you of something you loathe / fear in yourself. Hold that thought for a second. Let me tell you about my party last night:

I had some friends over for a little low key party. Close to midnight, John called me. He usually doesn’t call at this hour unless something is very wrong. I could hear tension in his voice, so I left the party and sequestered myself at my office desk. I couldn’t tell if this was another suicide call or not (we’ve had a few of those recently). It had some of the makings of one. I begin making plans of how I’m going to try to keep him on the phone and still call some other people for help.

The conversation progresses, and ultimately, he said, “I just called to tell you that I’m harboring some resentment for you. I just called to tell you that you’re an asshole, and that I’m really fucking pissed off at you right now”. He repeated this sentiment several times throughout the call.

During a recent suicide attempt, John had a loaded pistol and drugs in his system.  He was talking about shooting police nearby. It was insane. My dear friend Sally, whom he lives with, was absolutely instrumental in talking him off the ledge. She has a 1yr old little boy in the house. We were all quite upset that John would bring a loaded pistol into her house, while he was strung out on drugs.  A few days later, John gets checked into a the psych ward at a local hospital.  In one conversation during his week long stay, I told him that he owed Sally and her husband an apology for what he had done. He got mad and hung up on me when I told him that.

Last night, he called to start to talk to me about this. He was beyond furious. “They are all that I’ve got”, he said. And he’s right, if it weren’t for them, he’d essentially be homeless. Something about me confronting him with the necessity of apologizing, cut him to the core.  Do you ever get so upset, that you don’t even know WHY you are upset? That was his predicament last night. Something I said struck at him at such a deep level, he could do nothing but cry and curse at me.

He did not understand how Sally could be both pissed off AND love him & want to help, at the same time. He’s 30 years old and has yet to experience this reality. He still views the world in black and white terms – that you either love someone, or are angry at them. He does not understand that both can, and often do, occur. My statement that they were angry at him for endangering their safety was akin to an eviction notice, I suppose. How can someone be so emotionally stunted?

I also happen to know a lot about John’s childhood. He was spoiled as a child. His parents were guilt plagued Christians, and just capitulated to his every whim. Sure, he was “full of it” as a kid. He was extremely smart, demanding, and difficult to please. So, instead of doing the hard (and right) things, they just placated. Is it any wonder he didn’t graduate from high school? Is it any wonder he got involved with drugs and alcohol before he was 12? Is it any wonder he resorted to theft, instead of WORK, to fund his bad habits? Is it any wonder he ended up in prison for a few years?

He was taught the principles of immediate gratification as a kid. And now as an adult, he is bewildered when life becomes a little bit hard. Multiple demands on his time and attention just floor him. But perhaps most pernicious of all, is the lesson his pansy-ass parents taught him: By failing to ever discipline him, he never learned the lesson that some one can be angry with you AND still love you at the same time – and that the anger subsides, love endures.

They were afraid to do the hard work, and so –

‘The sins of the fathers (and mothers) will be visited on the children to the third and fourth generation.’

(Exodus 20: 5; 34:7)

These parents are what you’d call “good people”. They go to church every sunday. They pay their taxes. They take care of their neighbors. They are involved with their grandkids.  They are always helping. There is no way that they had any idea of what their failure to be firm was creating.

This is the sad, dark note that I’m left with: I’m a father. I have been FAR from perfect. Far from good. I feel like I’ve been a shitty father. Being a good dad is so hard when you are divorced. I’m not trying to justify anything. I’m just stating my truth.  I’m also realizing that in between some of the moments of good parenting that I’ve managed to have  – there will be some sins of mine that will be visited upon my children to the 3rd and 4th generations.

This is a somber, sad realization.

I think John Mayer understood this biblical phrase very clearly when he wrote that damn song.

My heart is heavy.

I’m gonna go call my kids.

  1. Paulie, I was just talking about this very thing today with another friend on the phone. It is so true that we all have habits ingrained in us from our upbringing and it makes me take a hard look at the patterns I am passing down to my own son. It seems we all have these battles to overcome. Thanks for posting about this delicate truth… there isn’t a person alive or dead who could not relate to what you’ve said.

    1.  @Stephography Thanks Steph. I know I come down kind of hard on my parents in this post – and I do have an essay on this in the works, but it’s worth mentioning now:  While it is unfortunate that we mess up our kids, we are also doing the best we know how to do in each given moment. There seems to be a certain perfect imperfection in it all. 

  2. I don’t have kids, Paul, but I really connected to what you said here. Maybe it’s because I had a Dad and although he was wonderful, he also made my life difficult through who he was and the weaknesses he had.

    I can only imagine how much it tears at you… the neighbor’s dog attacked my Lilly a few days ago and literally bit her in her soft belly… put a hole in her. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was SEETHING. I wondered then how fathers do it… how do they see their kids grow up and experience the ‘world’ and not want to protect them from everything and kill anyone that hurts them? If I felt like this with my cute dog, I can only IMAGINE how deep these feelings go for you.

    I don’t know that this will help, but I have always learned two things that apply here: I believe that we are agents and only experience through choice.
    Secondly, my own life has taught me that I have a definite path through life and that path is to teach ME exactly what I need to experience in order to learn or overcome. It is all just the way it needs to be.
    Seems overly simplistic at first glance, but I think there is a profound truth here. If you can accept your own path, you’ll realize that although you have made many mistakes in fathering, it is exactly what your kids needed. I’ve come to term with a lot of the HELL I’ve been through with a bit of faith that I’ve made these choices and although I tend to take the LONG, HARD road, I don’t regret any of it. To regret would be to deny who I am RIGHT NOW.

    Love you, bro.

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