Marrette

 
 

Excerpts From Chapter


From Grave to Cradle to Now


 

Men and Fathers – Joining the Order of the Asbestos Jock Strap

 


Fathers’ responsibility for the long-term

 If I may characterize simply the different primitive relationships that a son has with his mother and his father in such a crisis, I would suggest that the mother represents comfort and security in the present, within arms’ reach, whereas the father represents security outside arms’ reach, and a means to self-security in the future. In reality, clearly each relationship has degrees of both.

To a certain extent, a father’s post-critical-care responsibility to his son is to provide a role model and guidance to self-sufficiency in the world. A father must create his post-injury relationship with his injured son from scratch and it must start with rebuilding himself to take on this role. Rebuilding is very difficult and may never be completed. Together you need to provide yourselves with a cushion of understanding, tolerance, patience, humour and love. For you both, it may require innovative approaches. Listen to the patient, take guidance from them. As an example, I point to my need to dampen down my “contributions” because Drew finds them too much to handle. That requires a big effort on my part and counselling. First, I had to recognize it as a legitimate problem. Second, I had to recognize my need in that behaviour, the inner budgie. Third, I had to make a major adjustment in my protective attitude towards Drew. Fourth, I had to zip it—my lips.

There may be aspects of the pre-injury relationship that will still be relevant, for good or ill.

A father’s responsibility for and to his child will still be relevant but the way the father discharges those responsibilities may be vastly different from the way that they would have been discharged had the injury not occurred. For example, how does a father provide his injured child with understanding, direction, motivation and targets for self-sufficiency? Due to the slow healing of the brain and the need for therapies of many descriptions, you may not even know for years what the new expectations for self-sufficiency should be. To extend the example, if your son is aware of his cognitive shortcomings how do you deal with depression, defeatism, excessive self-expectations, appropriate benchmarks for performance and progress, both in him and in you? Perfection is not possible. Clumsy adjusting is the reality. Mistakes are inevitable.

One example will paint a picture. Even though I worked hard at being non-judgmental, professionally and personally over the years I have been evaluative, measuring performance against what I thought were objective “real world” benchmarks. As Drew began to resemble the old normal more and more, I was reverting to my old reactions/habits. At times like these I had to give myself a reality check.

No matter how experienced I am at hiring, managing and evaluating personnel in a wide variety of positions with a wide variety of expertise, obviously I have no monopoly on knowledge or wisdom and my world is not Drew’s world. He has every right to make his way in the world as he sees fit and he has and will do a great job of it.

It was never realistic for me to expect him to fit into the world in the way that I have, to follow in my footsteps, to be mini-me. Unfortunately, being partially aware of that reality didn’t stop me from behaving occasionally as if I had all the answers. Why should it be any different now? For the most excellent of all reasons—Drew is in the hands of occupational and psychotherapists who are far better equipped to help him. I need to recast myself as an additional resource—when called on. I’m increasingly more grise, but éminence—not so much. Solomon’s wisdom is but a glimmer over the horizon.

Unfortunately, I found that being aware that I need to be a benign advisor did not completely prevent me from behaving badly. From time to time, I allowed my stress levels to rise resulting in behaviour that created conflict with Drew. To resolve our occasional conflicts, we had long respectful and loving discussions—truly—and from these I learned a lot about how insightful and disciplined Drew is, as his therapist had also noted. I tried hard to change my behaviour to fit the new normal but it did not prevent me from exploding from time to time, often at chippy, snarky remarks that Drew made about my habits that annoyed him. At root, it was typical conflict between males, complicated by the circumstances.

Almost 3-years in after one such recent conflict, I apologized to him for a blow-up that was totally my fault. Then half an hour later I said to him, “I have come to the realization that you have healed enough that I no longer need to watch your back. You have the absolute right to run your own life. This realization has taken a huge load off of me.” This surprised and pleased Drew.

I meant it—all of it. Do I feel guilty that I made such a decision and declaration in spite of the fact that I knew that Drew had about six more years of brain healing to go through, that his abilities to multi-task or juggle complex options are still degraded? I’m somewhat surprised to say that I didn’t feel guilty in the least. I thought then and I think now that overall my decision is best for Drew and for me. It is not completely true what I said about no longer watching his back; I still do and he knows it. However having stated that, I no longer feel compelled to second-guess him to his face, to manipulate by making “suggestions” in the guise of adding options for him to consider. He is healing, he is in control, he is safe, he is disciplined and he knows that should he ever want our active support all he needs to do is ask and we will give it unstintingly and without judgment or comment. Most of all, he will be in the world a long time after I have gone. Even as he heals to an as yet unknown state, he needs to relearn to successfully interact with his world. There is no way that I can learn those lessons for him. There never was.

I realized at the time that this was a major milestone because Drew had taken his freedom from me; I hadn’t given it to him. This made me very happy because I have always felt that it is healthier for children to earn or take their freedom than it is for parents to give it to them. Drew was strong again! What my declaration to him did was to formally acknowledge a state that already existed and to declare that I would no longer get in his way.

Ironically, it is through Drew’s injury that we have been able to be objective about our relationship and that I am truly able to see him as the fiercely independent and unique individual that he is. Even though I have always been blown away by his talent, abilities and personality I am seeing rich new dimensions of him that I had never seen before because our relationship got in the way. Perhaps we are always hardest on our first child, the one who trains us and who forces us out of ourselves.

A week or so after my epiphany and declaration, we entered another conflict when Drew told me emphatically and rudely what to do. I replied, “Just a minute. We have an agreement. I don’t tell you what to do and therefore you don’t tell me what to do.” That seemed to work. He picks up and applies things with great self-discipline.

Things were fine for a few days and then I created an ugly scene for which I apologized multiple times to him and to Rachel. Drew went to work the next day and did not come home for three days, staying with his brother and with friends. I arranged an emergency meeting for Rachel and me with Drew’s therapist. She gave us good advice and I met her with Drew a week later. Since then things have occasionally been tense but we have been behaving ourselves and have had no serious conflicts for months. He is relaxing and my stress levels are diminishing. I’m looking forward to a new healthy state between us and believe that eventually our relationship will be better than it has ever been.

All this may sound somewhat like a typical relationship between opinionated strong-willed fathers and sons. However, remember that all of this has taken place while Drew’s brain, particularly his frontal lobe, which deals with inhibition and judgment, has not healed and won’t heal completely for years. However, his brain seems to be healing faster than mine, which is to be expected since older brains heal far more slowly, if at all. I joke with Drew that soon he will be the caregiver. Perhaps we’ll wave to each other as we pass, going in opposite directions.

Patience? Did I mention patience? It isn’t easy. There is no road map as such but there are those who can guide you. There will be bumps in the road. But with patience, open mindedness, much love, a sense of humour and forgiveness from you and your loved one, you will work it out. You and your child will grow closer and your love for each other and your mutual admiration will increase dramatically. You will have a deeper and richer relationship. With your child and family enjoy the moment; enjoy each step of progress. Your other interpersonal relationships in the family, community and business will be enhanced dramatically as well. You will have more appropriate priorities. You will see others for who they are, not for who you want them to be. You will be more prepared to accommodate the humanity of others, even if they don’t fit your ideal. You will have a better balance between emotions and intellect. You will better manage your expectations of others and of yourself.


Your experience will change you for the better—if you let it



However, did I mention surprises? About 15 months after Drew’s injury, he asked me to stop hugging him. “Why?” I asked. “Because you hug me every time I go out, even when I go to work. It’s like you don’t expect to see me again.” I realized that he was right enough; so I stopped. I still get the urge.

 


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