The power of commitment

My father was committed. For over thirty years he stayed married to the same woman. He would probably say that it was easy; that he loved her. But thirty years is a long time to be with anyone. It takes perseverance.

My father was committed. He graduated from medical school in 1963 and became a psychiatrist. He practiced well into his 60s. He loved his work. I think he felt like he was contributing to society by helping his patients. He must have felt like he was making a difference in their lives. He must have believed in his work.

My father was committed. Even when I told him I was transitioning from woman to man, he continued to say that he loved me. He didn’t accept me, couldn’t accept me. But he loved me nonetheless. It wasn’t what I wanted but it was something. It showed his commitment to being a better father than the one he had grown up with. By all accounts my grandfather was a difficult, sometimes violent man. My father had a violent temper but he never hit my mother nor did anything more than spank me. Granted, he spanked me a lot. But I probably deserved some of it.

My father was committed. Every day he drank pills that kept him alive. Pills that meant his body would not reject the kidney he received in transplant at age 25. Every day he had to choose to live. How easy it could have been to just stop. To let nature run its course. He once wrote me to say that he had contemplated suicide but that he had decided against it because of the people he would hurt by leaving. He meant our family and his friends. He lived for other people. He was a good person. Flawed, but good.

Around my neck I wear a necklace. A black cord with a silver pendant hanging from it. Imprinted on it is my father’s face. I wear it to remember the man he was and could have been. I wear it because it symbolizes the pain I still carry in me about the way he died, the troubles we ran into in trying to connect with one another. The necklace is a proclamation; it announces to the world that I am my father’s son, even if no one sees his faintly imprinted face at all. He is with me. He is inside me. He is part of me.

I am still learning how to be a man. Turns out it’s not that easy. It demands making decisions that are not clear-cut, like what to devote myself to career-wise, how to be a good partner to my girlfriend, and how to be a good friend to those around me.

My father had a side that was quiet, funny, gentle and under-nurtured. I wish I had gotten to know that side of him better. Because I want to be the man he never got to be. My vulnerabilities are not a weakness and nor was his. But he struggled to show his and suffered nobly the pain his ailing body wreaked on him. I embrace my vulnerability because it is where my strength lies. It’s who I am.

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