At first I was amused at the reaction my remark drew from family members and friends. It was a slight thing, two or three phrases linked to form a sentence, meant not only for encouragement but a promise for something neither my son nor I could ever have envisioned during the dark years that tainted so much of our relationship. In that context it was far deeper than the comment appeared on the surface, surprising, even, but maybe nothing we say or do is entirely innocuous but layered beneath psychological strata so buried within us that no amount of excavation could ever unearth their secrets.
At almost the same time as I was being bombarded by friends and family members—gently, with good humor and not a little shock as if I’d confessed to some hideous crime or unheard-of trait—I was being hammered for other remarks I’d made on a popular social networking site. The latter were couched in bemusement but dripping with sarcasm and anger. Such, I’m discovering, is the allure and pitfall of a public forum such as Facebook: a casual comment or personal observation is often misread, misinterpreted, exaggerated, analyzed, scrutinized and perverted depending upon the personal whims, biases or predispositions of others. The end result is sometimes unrecognizable if not bewildering. At times this can be entertaining while at others knives are brandished and lines drawn in the sand.
In the first instance, I’d told our youngest son, Ben, that the next time we met I wanted him to grace me with a tattoo. I was thinking something small, a golden Zia sun symbol, perhaps, or a stylized jackrabbit like the one painted on the side of an abandoned grain silo near the southern Colorado town of Antonito. Its eventual placement on my anatomy remained a matter of conjecture. On the one hand, keeping it hidden seemed the safer course but could also be construed as embarrassment; exposing it provided unrestricted viewings of Ben’s mastery and skill as well as an admission of pride. I also wished him well on an upcoming trip to San Diego for a tattoo convention where he was to be honored for his work.
In the second instance, I was accused of being intolerant of the views of others. I hadn’t meant my remarks to appear that way, or I didn’t think I did. Or maybe I did and didn’t want to admit it. The complexity of our minds frequently blinds us to ourselves leaving suspect even our most thoughtful and reasoned actions, and only fools or cowards would belabor the point. As this wasn’t the first such accusation, merely in fact one of many, it was left to me to determine my own guilt or innocence.
Intolerance is an ugly word. It’s a symptom of even uglier ideology whose only motivation is divisiveness, enmity and a delusional sense of superiority. I used to joke that whatever intolerance people assumed I possessed didn’t come naturally but was inculcated during my formative years as a charter member of an Independent Baptist church. I was taught by the best. Our leading tenet could be summed up quite nicely by a humble declaration that we as the chosen were bound for heaven and everybody else was not. We were all about absolutes and woefully unprepared for life with its limitless shades of gray. Intolerance was our creed.
But that was left behind years before. Parenthood further eroded the authoritarian absolutes I clung to but not before dragging me through the muck. Our eldest son, Joel, was sociable, smart, responsible and caring, but our youngest son took another tack. He gravitated toward a darker element that I could neither condone nor fathom, nor could I make him see the error of his ways. It was a popular term then as now but nothing more than another form of intolerance. What I failed to see or understand was that his ways weren’t necessarily my ways, and no amount of punishment could make a dent in the armor he donned against my world.
Years of struggle and strife came to a head in 1993. Ben and a friend skipped school and returned to our house where they proceeded to trash it from top floor to basement. When I walked into the house I was waylaid with a rifle butt to the face. For weeks I couldn’t shake the memory of straddling my son with a pistol to his head, finger on trigger, years of pent-up frustration refined to one crystalline moment dependent upon an ounce of pressure. I thought it was the worst thing I had ever done in my life.
Intolerant? I have some experience with it. Judging personal guilt or innocence is a little harder. But the accusation nevertheless took me off guard and sent me reeling straightaway into the past and the office of a bitter, man-hating harridan who coldly stated that the problems between my son and I could only be addressed through a public admission of my intolerance, followed, it was implicitly understood, by a lengthy and expensive regimen of psychotherapy.
I can’t remember how I responded but suspect it was crude and ugly. My sense of humor had long since been crushed, and being forced to listen to this harangue only intensified my dislike for therapists, social workers and, above all, this particular specimen of psychobabbling bitch. What really chapped my hide, what made me want to reach across her desk and throttle her until her eyes bulged from their sockets, was the fact that her diagnosis was one hundred percent correct.
(To be continued)