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Fathers and Sons: Your Limitations Are Self-Imposed

Fathers and Sons: Your Limitations Are Self-Imposed

Let’s unlimit ourselves by praying and remaining focused on our own lives, our own health, and our own relationship to ourselves.

I’m in a hard place at this moment. Nothing is quite working out as planned. AND… everything is working out just as it is supposed to. That’s how the universe works. Just-in-time lessons for searchers and seekers.

Here’s what I’m learning/seeking:

  • I had my gallbladder unexpectedly removed last Monday, 8 days ago.
  • I have an estranged relationship with my 17-yo son, but… well… he’s 17… no… no excuses.
  • I have an estranged relationship with all three of my past wives/fiancees.
  • I have a new relationship that is opening a healthier horizon than I could’ve imagined.
  • I am transitioning my life’s work to this (john mcelhenney | site | spokes-person) and it’s just getting started, but bearing no fruit yet.
  • I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.
  • I’m also quite emotional (weepy) since my surgery
  • I’m on zero meds for my depression (and this is a good thing and under the advisement and specific supervision of my psychiatrist)

I am alone with my plans, dreams, and hopes. No one else is going to help me or rescue me from my situation.

I got a message loud and clear this morning.

Your Limitations Are Self-Imposed. I’m doing this to myself. I’m responsible for my happiness, my actions, my recovery, my relationships, my money, my mental health, my creative output, my self-worth, and even my ever-aching desire to be a great dad. I guess I’m not a great dad. I’m the best dad I an be. I’m reaching out to my son repeated and being given apathy in return. That’s okay. And again, I believe, it’s just where it needs to be. All IS right with the world.

I recall when I was 17 I was a mess. My dad was dying of alcoholism and cancer and heart disease. All at once I wanted to heal my father. I wanted him to see the value in our relationship and get healthy for me. At least he could do that. At least he could survive. At least he could try. He did not try. My father had some very messed up psychological dramas and existential struggles with his mother and father. Mainly his father. My dad hated his father. And in some ways, my dad, believe he killed his father. He did the Oedipal thing for real.

Here’s the family myth.

My dad was an attractive and popular kid in school. He was athletic. Loved by the girls. And as he was completing high school he built an Amercian Graffiti-style roadster from the bolts to the tires. He worked an entire summer, so the myth goes, getting this car perfect. And on his first night out in the car of his dreams, he showed off a bit. Well, Austin, Texas was a much smaller town back then, and one of the parents of my dad’s friends did not appreciate the flashy car and the revved-up adrenaline. A call was made. My father’s father forced him to sell his hotrod the next day. He never got to drive it again.

Move things forward a few years and my dad was offered a trip to Hollywood to do some screentests for a director. My father’s father forbade the trip. My dad entered medical school at Penn State as his dad directed. He wanted to be an actor. He became a doctor. His father was a doctor.

As my dad completed his medical degree and postgraduate internship, he returned to Austin, Texas and joined his father’s growing pediatric medical practice. My father’s father was the first pediatric doctor in Austin. My father became the first “board certified” allergist in Austin, Texas. Their practices grew side-by-side, but their relationship remained brutally cold.

Further down the road a few years, my father became the chairman of the board of directors of the thriving medical practice. His first act was to vote his father into retirement. From his own practice. My dad repaid his angry debt with a swift and brutal cut at his father’s heart. It worked. His dad died a few weeks later, on his first “retirement/vacation in Hawaii.” He took an overdose of Coumadin, his heart medicine. The same medicine my father would become so dependant on only a few years later in his early forties as he experienced his first heart attack while resting between sets of tennis at the local club’s championship finals match. I don’t know if my dad was winning or losing. But he retired under a shade tree and drank an entire glass of ice tea and proceeded to go into cardiac arrest.

I remember this part because I was playing on the grounds of the club nearby when I was told my dad was on his way to the hospital.

My own father died when he was just 55, the age I am today. He had three heart attacks. He continued to smoke and drink until a melanoma bloomed in his brain and the chemotherapy prevented him from drinking successfully. My dad never corrected his health trajectory downward. He never played tennis again. He never played tennis with me. And he never got to see me enjoy and full and rich tennis life. My dad missed me completely.

Still, I reached out for my father repeatedly during most of my cognitive life. As long as I can remember I was striving to attract his attention. Except when he was drunk, that was when you wanted to escape his attention completely. I recall a scene, when I was in middle school, so 9 or 10 years old, I was swimming with my father during one of our “dinners.” Part of the divorce decree and part of our relationship we attempted to maintain. We were rough-housing in the pool. Horsing around like kids together. Except for a second, my dad forgot what he was doing. He was drunk. He held my head underwater and was not letting me up for air. I remember panicking like my life was at risk. I lashed out with a swift kick to his balls and he released me. I swam to the far side of the pool. I never got in the pool with my father again.

I’m sad about my dad today. I’m sad that he’s gone. And I’m sure some of this sadness is mixed up in my sadness at the non-existent relationship I have with my teenaged son. I’m sad. It’s okay. Most of the sadness is about me. About my dad. Most of my limitations and sadnesses are self-inflicted.

I’m sure my son is doing just fine. I’m sure he, as a 17 yo boy is enjoying his anger and distance from his father. And I’m sure, that this is where we are supposed to be.

The universe has a funny way of working things out for us. Our job is to do our best, remain focused on being the best person we can be, and continue to unlearn our self-limiting beliefs. And my job, as a father, is not to burden my son with my baggage around my dad and his dad and all that other father/son stuff. My job with my son is to continue to offer my love, support, and opportunities to connect. I have never turned away from my son the way my father turned away from me. His alcoholism is an excuse. Real, but, an excuse. Somewhere deep inside, my father was very unhappy. And somewhere my father felt he had murdered his father. And I’m sure his alcoholic mother was not much of a consoling force in his life.

We’ve all got our burdens. Let’s unlimit ourselves by praying and remaining focused on our own lives, our own health, and our own relationship to ourselves. God comes second. If we don’t love ourselves, even god has a hard time with us.


John McElhenney

See more posts about being a single-father on The Whole Parent.

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