My early relationship with my father was often combative. From a tender age, it seemed to me that his purpose was to make my life difficult. His criticism and quips made me angry. “Your temper is going to get you in big trouble one day!” he’d say to me. I experienced my father as a self-righteous militaristic dictator of arbitrary rules. As a teen I fought him and accused him of being the cause of all my problems. His stern warning about the birds and bees and countless other lessons added fuel to my anger toward him. He seemed unable to see me and accept me as I was. To his harshness I retorted, “Were you never a child, never a teenager? Did you never rebel or make mistakes?”
My relationship with my father taught me that men were my adversaries. I was motivated by a need to prove my value to others. Architecture was the perfect profession for me. Although I loved the creativity, working from the big picture of designing complex public buildings to the minute details of door knobs, my competitiveness began to disturb me. Architects are often called upon to pit our skills against each other. Sometimes it gets real nasty. Battles for our commissions can seem like gladiator competitions over talent, time and money. It can bring out the worst in people otherwise devoted to making a better world.
Then I began to question these competitions and the way they left me feeling degraded and demoralized, even after winning. Oh, Wow! It hit me. I was feeling about my profession like I did with my father. I began to realize that all I ever wanted from my father was for him to see me, believe in me and support my dreams. They both had me feel separate from others and what I craved was connection.
When I learned that at the age of twelve my father had been blamed for his father’s death, I was shocked. I realized how emotionally wounded, how mentally tormented and burdened with guilt and shame he must have been. Did he blame himself for the deformity of my hands? Was that why he was so hard on me? My heart opened. I felt compassion for my father.
I always knew my father was a brilliant and learned man, a philosopher, an engineer and inventor and a self-taught speaker of several languages. But now I felt for him and his pain. I wondered about the contributions he might have made to the world had his inner demons been conquered. I realized that in his own way he had applied his Naval Academy training to me. He was pushing me to find inner strength and confidence, to pick myself up when I was down.
Recently, I found a photograph of my father. It was taken at my graduation from Columbia University, the only event of mine he ever attended. He was absolutely beaming at me with loving pride. When I saw that light in his eyes, I realized how deeply he loved me. Now I see and feel his contribution to my life. It was when I delivered his eulogy that I finally realized he had been the perfect father for me. Our Souls had chosen well. By presenting himself as my adversary, he was actually coaching me to be resilient and resourceful. It takes a very wise Soul with unconditional love to do what he did for me. He taught me the value of adversity. I can at last look back at my father with deep honor and humility. I love you, Dad!
Albert C. Moore (Nicknamed, “Curley” by his fellow Midshipmen) United States Naval Academy Class of 1943
As I matured, our relationship turned very cordial, handshakes, man to man. We sometimes even greeted each other with genuine embraces. One of my favorite memories of my dad is of us watching a ballgame together, drinking beers and eating his favorite sandwich, peanut butter and onion.
3 thoughts on “Humility”
Thought-provoking as always. Thank you.
Parents sometimes remain an enigma. Your father seemed like that for you until you were able to see through the facade he had created for your growth. We often don’t realize that the tough love we experienced was the greatest love of all. It’s too bad we realize the truth when we are unable to truly express our gratitude.
So well said. Such an important perspective for all of us to remember. And then express our gratitude! Yay you.