Earlier this year my mother gave me a present. It was my father’s wedding ring.
“I know you didn’t get along with him,” she said, “but I just thought you might want this.” My initial reaction was a firm “No.” Then, for some reason, I changed my mind and took it.
I didn’t wear it at first. But the ring was calling to me. Eventually I put it on, and of course felt a surge of power. Fortunately I didn’t disappear like Frodo, or have a visit from Sauron. Or worse, a visit from my Dad. He could be a real bastard. I felt the ring on his hand when he hit me. The ring didn’t hurt, but I could feel it.
For all his failings, my father stayed married until the day he died. His first child and only son – that would be me – failed at marriage. I gave it a good run, 16 years, most of them good years, but in the end the marriage ended. So I failed where my Dad had succeeded.
Wearing Dad’s ring has come to symbolize something for me. After many years post-divorce, I have finally started to feel like I could be in a committed “do it until death” relationship. And I realize now that is what I really want. I wanted my marriage to last ’til death. Now I want to do it again.
Except that I will not treat my wife like Dad treated Mom. Wearing his wedding ring is a reminder to me of what I want to do differently in my relationship with the woman I love.
My aim is not good. I have already had two failed relationships this year. I was emotionally committed in both, so it hurt. But I kept waking up, getting out of bed, and going to work. So life goes on, no matter how bad it feels. But I’m back and ready for more punishment.
This time the punishment doesn’t come from my Dad. I see sometimes that he was punished hard in his own life, and he didn’t have enough skills to restrain himself from punishing his family out of his own pain and frustration. I am usually able to avoid that pitfall. The punishment for me will come from rolling the dice with life itself, and living with the luck/fate/grace/karma of the result.
Dad was a ring bearer. So am I. We have both borne the same ring. We have that in common, if little else. At least the little I am willing to grudgingly acknowledge. I acquired his temper, although thanks to his bad example, my anger was internalized.
I vowed early on that I would not punish people the way Dad punished us. I inherited his temper, and for a long time I refused to acknowledge that. My aversion to him was so strong and so complete that I couldn’t admit I had any of my Dad’s qualities. It wasn’t okay to admit I had his anger, his short temper, his love of music, his attraction to religion/spirituality, his sense of humor, and even his quirky mother hen paternalism.
But now it is late in the game so I’ll cop to everything. It has taken all my life to admit that I got some good qualities from my dad. Hopefully my own two sons won’t have the same problem. I was a very different father to them than my Dad was to me. I was a better dad, although I still had occasional flashes of temper with them. But I didn’t throw any of them down the basement stairs, like my daddy did to me.
I accomplished what I wanted to do. I was a better father than my dad. To be honest part of my motivation was to spite him. Part of being a better dad than him was a way of showing him I was a better person than him. But mostly it was wanting to show love and leadership to a boy. That is what I have tried to do with my boys.
Maybe my boys will be better fathers to their children than I was to them. I hope so. I made mistakes. And some things I did well. I hope the seeds I planted with my boys about how to treat people, and how to treat themselves, will be of use to them.
At some point in their lives my sons will probably be ring bearers too. May our male lineage continue to grow into roles of husband and father, provide and care for those we love, and pay life forward. It is an intention and a hope.