Breakfast With My Father Part II: Who Are We Anyway?

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking."
                                                                                        -Albert Einstein

Rituals are an important aspect of our lives; or they can be. They could be as simple as saying a prayer before the dinner meal, or reading a bed time story to the children before sleep. In our family, it was breakfast together; mostly Sunday breakfasts. These rituals bring us something important. Often they are little nuggets we incorporate as a way of belonging with our families. For me, it was the time set aside to be together, away from the usual day to day life happenings. We would go out for Sunday breakfast, or when we were very young, it was the homemade banana pancakes as we sat and ate together. That was a time when our father wasnt working and it was a time for us children, and us as a family. 

Recently, we brought my father back into town for a visit. This could be the last visit he is able to accomplish in this life. Last year we had to move him out of our home city to another city where another sibling lives. He is in assisted living, and it is working out well for him. Because I no longer see him on a regular basis, and it had been over two months since my last visit, I was especially struck by how much he has changed. He is in the throes of dementia. It starts out fairly slowly, and then accelerates quickly. Seeing and feeling the changes in him has been a very touching and sad experience for me. He is no longer the man he was. He has lost so much of his mind, and yet, every once in awhile, there is a glimmer of the man he was.

Our families shape us, and at the same time, we are our own person. Trouble occurs when we are too close to our family, when we are separated from them, and when we take on a family members beliefs and way of being when they arent ours. Who are we anyway? With my father, as I will talk about over the next few months, he was distant from his parents. In fact he rejected them as completely as he possibly could with no pull towards understanding them or accepting them. In the winter of his life as he has decided to not deal with some of his ghosts and his blind spots, he is now losing his mind. He wrote a book called: Mr. Magoo is My Role Model. In case you dont know who Mr. Magoo is, he is an old cartoon character who was almost blind. My father embraced his blind spots instead of wanting to see more clearly. There is a young man I am working with who wants to know who he is and is having trouble.

This young man struggles with knowing who he is. Throughout his life, until he graduated from high school, he thought he knew who he was. He was a fun loving, easy to get along with kind of guy. Then he graduated high school. While many of his friends left town to begin college, he stayed in town and lived with his parents while he went to a two year college. He tried to buckle down and study, but had difficulty. Suddenly he wasnt the fun loving guy anymore. He had a hard time talking with others and was self conscious. His girl friend broke up with him, they got back together, but they werent the same. He later tried working for his father and putting school on the back burner. He wanted to be more like his father: organized and hard working. But he isnt so organized, and certain things dont come easy to him.

His family came from Poland and he is a first generation immigrant. His father left Poland with his parents when his wife was pregnant with their son and went back and forth from Poland to America for the next four years until he could bring them to America with him and his parents. His fathers brother was left in Poland while he watched his brother and parents move to another country. You see, his uncle was in Polands military and couldnt leave. His uncles father wanted to bring his family to a new country because he didnt want his other son to have to fight in the military and they wanted a better life. The uncle was left behind. The dad worked hard with his father, and the son, my client, got very close to his mother.

In working with him, I used felt footsteps to help give an outer image to his inner story. I even had him step on the footsteps to see if he had a feeling from the perspective of others; father, uncle, America, Poland, himself, grandparents, and mother. He clearly placed himself in between everyone with his feet crossed; one foot pointing towards his uncle and Poland, and one foot with his family in America. He clearly felt pulled in different directions. Who is he, and where does he belong? His dilemma began when friends left him to go to college, and his girlfriend broke up with him. It made us wonder together how it must have been for his father, with one family in America and one family in Poland, knowing his wife had her baby son with her? His uncle felt left out when his family left. His mother felt left and abandoned by her husband when she was at a time of great need. And when people left him, he felt pulled and no longer knew who he was.

It is amazing to me how we are all so connected; across family members, across generations, across countries and nations, etc. There is a lot for him to put together in his life. By feeling and seeing the connections outside of himself so he can see it better inside himself is a great beginning. The same is true for all of us.


So, this leads me to a question for all of us personally to answer. What are you struggling with in terms of your identity? What do you have in common with your parents or care takers? How are you like them in thinking, dressing, living style, eating, beliefs, etc.? What conflicts do you have with them, or in life? What makes you angry? What gets you confused? Take a few minutes to answer one of these questions every day, and after a week, read what you have written and compare what you have written to how you think you know yourself.

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