Unfinished Business

“Dear Leonard,

My dad might be very sick. He has had a critical health scare in the past more than ten months ago and has recently undergone further tests. I grew up without my dad and we both missed out on so much during so many years. We now have the most wonderful relationship. Time spent together is really precious and we are not only making up for and enjoying lost time, but we also really enjoy each other’s company. It’s so heartening to connect with a parent who is a source of so many of my traits and idiosyncrasies. The start of my concern is that her effuses to look after himself even without his past health scares. His overall attention to himself is abysmal. He refuses to have regular check ups, sometimes cancelling milestone doctor’s appointments. He won’t exercise and refuses to eat properly or even attempt to embrace any possible benefits of a healthy lifestyle and healthy nutrition. He absolutely adores his grand children and he’s getting a second chance to be the parent he never knew he could be, but often he cannot play with them as much as he’d like too because he’s so unfit. The heart of my concern though is hard to relate to thee problem in terms of my emotional investment, because of our history; I don’t really rely on him for parental advice, but rather just enjoy him in his company. If he is not prepared to make the effort to live longer and healthier, why should I care and despair so much? I cannot make his choices for him, but know how much we will all lose if he does not make a radical change in his life. All we want is for him to try. We will support him all the way. In the mean time, I do not want to drive myself nuts, caring too much for someone who does not even care for themselves.”

Well, my answer to this letter now is that, it’s not about caring for him, for him. It’s about deciding what do you want to do for you. The question is really not who he’s going to be in the relationship, because as you’ve said he hasn’t always been there and he hasn’t been someone that you can rely on in the past and you’re happy to have thee relationship with him despite this fact. The question is and this is the question that all relationships, who do you want be in the relationship? What is the investment that you want to make? To ask the age-old question, is it better to love and lose or to not love at all? And in answer to your question, to put it into perspective, what I need to say to you is that loss is the taxes that you pay on love. The more you invest, the more you love, the more you will lose in the end, and that is just a fact of life. And so, if you don’t want to lose, then the answer is, don’t invest, don’t give, but the obvious repercussions of that you will live a very sterile and impoverished life. And so, there’s no easy answer to this question, because the existential reality is that is you want to get the most out off your relationship with your father, you have to keep investing, and whether he looks after his health or he doesn’t, you are going to have to suffer the loss eventually, because that’s just the way it goes in life. So the question you have to ask yourself is, will the investment be worth it even knowing that you will to suffer the loss at the end?

Now, I’m going to say something, which I hope you wont find presumptuous, because you haven’t really made it explicit in your question, but what I’m sensing from your question is an issue that is not so much about investing in the future, but really about concerns relating to the past. It seems to me implicit in your question, is a certain anger, you’re saying “if he doesn’t want to take care of himself, why the hell should I want to take care of him?” but I think where that anger seems to come from is a disappointment in the relationship in the past and in a sense you’re saying between the lines, “I’ve been disappointed by the relationship in the past, why should I open myself to the disappointment from the relationship in the future?” and implicit in this dilemma is really the question, can I trust this person? Can I trust my father? Can I trust the relationship? And that really seems to be the deeper issue at play in your question and if that’s true then it would seem that your father not taking care of himself for you, is like him threatening to abandon you, to be unreliable to you. In a sense, saying to you, unconsciously in your own mind, I’m not saying obviously that this is what he intends or that he’s even conscious of it, but I’m saying that this is maybe the message that you’re getting from him not taking care of himself, “that I don’t really care about you enough to make it worth it for me to take care of myself, to put the effort into looking after myself and living longer,” and this is probably a fear or a feeling that you had from the past. In reality from reading between the lines in your letter, it seems to me that your father could be suffering from depression or some other issue that’s making it difficult for him to take care of himself. So, I want to make it very clear that in my answer, I’m not blaming your father at all for what you’re going through, but to relate to the general issue and to the issue of self-forgetting, I wish to point out that what you’re experiencing is what a lot of people experience if they’ve been children of a parent who is suffering from an addiction, because when a parent or a partner or someone important in your life is suffering from an addiction, the people in the relationship, the other people in the relationship, always get the feeling that the addiction is more important than them. That somehow the addicted person is more in love with whatever they’re addicted to than they are to you, the person in the relationship and addictions can take many forms. In the previous email, I was talking about being suck in repetitive patterns that seem to have no purpose that go against our true intentions, that betray our will and these kind of repetitive behaviours can be considered as addictions. These would be things like criticism, like negativity, that a person seems to be stuck in or they could be gambling or drug abuse, the tradition addictions, or like in this case, could be the behaviour of self-neglect or as in the pervious email procrastination. So, self-neglect is another form of going to sleep to one’s self and when someone has gone to sleep to themselves, in a way that takes the form of self-neglect. It often says to thee other people in the environment that we aren’t important enough to you for you to be there for us, for you to look after yourself for us, and so again, we’re back to the issue in the relationship of helping the other person to self remember. Before I start talking about how you can help your father to self-remember, I’d like to point out to you how you’re about to engage in the process or you’re saying that you feel like engaging in a process, which would be the process of actively self-forgetting, because what you’re really saying is that, “I want to put to sleep all my feelings in this relationship. I want to put to sleep my love and my longing so that I don’t get hurt in this relationship. And so, you’re in a sense saying that I will betray myself by going to sleep to my love and my needs in this relationship in order to prevent my father from betraying me by dying or by getting ill or not being for me the person who I need him to be. And so, what you have to do is to start becoming honest about your feelings in the relationship, honest with yourself and stop believing that if you withhold from your father, you can on the one hand protect yourself, but on the other hand maybe punish him, because in a sense you’re saying, “if he doesn’t give me what I want by being there for me, by looing after himself, by staying alive, then I’m not going to give him the love that he wants and that he’s enjoying in the relationship. And so, you can see that in adopting this position, you’re really engaging in active self-forgetting and you have to ask yourself, what is really really important to you? Is playing this game of self-protection and of punishing and of staying stuck in the past, what’s really important to you? Or are you really just saying that you’re so sad, that you’re so concerned and hurt at the prospect of finally having this loving relationship with your father, finding the source of your traits and idiosyncrasies, finding this love in your life and feeling so complete in a way and that poignancy of knowing that you’re going to have to give it up and that’s just so painful to anticipate? If you can be honest with yourself about the pain of that loss, the bittersweet enjoyment of the present, knowing that as much as you’re benefiting from what’s happening now, you haven’t always had it and as much as you’re enjoying it now, it can’t last forever. If you’re truthful about this and you allow yourself to work through these feelings, then you will find that you are able to re-enter the relationship and to give fully of yourself, living in the here and now and enjoying what’s available to you now.

Very often, people have regrets and recriminations in their relationships with their parents and the question is, if your parent hasn’t been to you what you wanted him or her to be in the past, does that mean you have to sacrifice the present and the future in order to honour what was a disappointing and painful past? And so, obviously implicit in what I’m saying is the risk but also the fulfilment and the richness of what the relationship is offering now, and the paradox is that if you give the love that you want to give, if you enter the relationship fully and unconditionally, if you let go of your anger and your disappointment and your regret, that you also let go of your fear for the future, then you’ll be able to be in the relationship unconditionally to fully embrace the relationship and your father in a loving way without demands and without expectations and the paradox is that that love could be the love that wakes him up to his lovability, that could be the beginning of his self remembering. And o, by you being true to yourself, how you not going to sleep to your truth, you could be in the relationship in a way that is so loving and so giving, and so unconditional, that it wakes your father up to his truth. And so, instead of inspecting and demanding from him, you will help him to awaken to what he could have in the relationship in a healthy future, in living a lifestyle of self-care and becoming more fit and healthy. And so, by giving up on the demand and the expectation that he should be the way he wants to be and loving him for who he really is, you could most powerfully be the catalyst for helping him to self-remember and become the person. When you send the letter, “because of our history, I don’t rely on him for parental advice, but rather just to enjoy him in his company,” when you’ve fully forgiven him, when you have fully embraced the relationship, maybe you’ll start being able to rely on him for advice, start allowing him not just to be pleasant company and someone you enjoy having a good time with, but someone you allow to be a parent, who you can actually draw off and rely upon and for a parent, there’s is nothing more affirming, there’s nothing more validating of your role than children relying on you for advice, drawing on your wisdom and experience, and so that you’ll know that you’ve been able to fully move into an unconditionally loving position when you allow him to not only be good company and a nice person to be around, but to really be your parent again, and in that way you’ll also have the full benefit and be able to heal the past wounds by enjoying being a child in this relationship and allowing yourself to be taken cared of in the way that you’ve always wanted. Sadly, our show for this week has come to an end. I look forward to interacting with you again next week and making the soulful connection. And so, I hope that you’ll join me then and also send me your emails, which I’m really enjoying being able to respond to. I’d like to end with a quote, which is really borrowing some of the words from a quote by Oscar Wilde and say to you that you’re self-remembering—

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