Sunday, March 25, 2012


I have written before about former Vice President Dick Cheney's heart. I read in today's New York Times that he now has a new one. Having heard in the past about how a donor's characteristics can be passed on, through transplant surgery, to the recipient, I'm wishing for Mr. Cheney that his donor was a gentle, peace-loving soul who lived his life on earth in the spirit of love and generosity. I hope he--or she! wouldn't that be wonderful!--did not take pleasure in shooting birds for sport. Or going to war. And in the spirit of the dharma, may this new recipient find true happiness in the remainder of his years.

The other piece that caught my eye this morning was Maureen Dowd's column, How Oedipus Wrecks, based on an interview with the writer/director Mike Nichols about father/son relationships. While I find the Nichols--basically Freudian--argument simplistic, I have done enough shadow work with men to know how the relationship plays out powerfully, sometimes disastrously, in their lives. Whether it's the need to live up to the father's expectations or role model, or having to compensate in some way for an absent father--no matter whether through the agency of addiction, emotional detachment, divorce or abandonment--the all-too-commonly experienced tough relationship with dad is a primary factor in the way men live out their lives. Too many of them simply never grow up because they are unable to resolve it. We live under the sway of too many ungrown little boys, from businessmen to presidents. Our world, I believe, would be a better place if men would simply learn how to mature. We could use a good review of the power of the initiation rites that ushered boys to manhood in older--and in some ways wiser--cultures than our own. And fraternity hazing doesn't cut the mustard; doesn't even come close.

Dowd's article provoked an emotional response, for me, because the closest I came to resolving that relationship with my father was on his deathbed. Close, because I think I never quite achieved it, man to man. My father already had one foot in the next world, and was unable to match my desire to come to resolution. I brought with me, at the time, the recent, rich experience of a men's training weekend and a new enthusiasm for authenticity, which led me to confess to my disbelief in those things to which he had devoted his life's work as a minister, and my disappointment that we had never been able to allow ourselves to reveal to each other the love that we undoubtedly shared. Looking back on it, I'm not sure that I achieved anything with my honesty, other than to add another cut to the poor man's agony at his life's end. It was a little late for the teenager's rebellion.

Having been raised in England in the English manner, I remained dangerously disconnected from matters of the heart and soul until my middle years. My parents, raised in the same manner, were not attuned to the child's need for the expression of love, whether in terms of physical intimacy--of which the hug is the simplest and most available example--or in words. I am not alone in this, I know. But, as I have written elsewhere, my relationship with my father was modeled on that between the human being and God. He was the all-wise, the all-knowing, the all-powerful. He was the high priest at the altar in the church to which my mother brought me and my sister to worship every Sunday. He read the Gospel from the lectern, delivered the sermon from the pulpit, celebrated communion in the holiest of holies. I was the little boy who wiggled and squirmed, and who needed a pee at the most inopportune of moments.

Still, as I said above, I would think it remiss to interpret my whole life through the lens of these memories, and to use this narrative as the explanation for all my weaknesses and failures. In a different context, I was citing the resounding words about love--or charity (depending on whether you prefer King James to later versions)--from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13. Towards the end of that magnificent passage, Paul reminds us: "What I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." As I was saying, it took me a long time to grow up. I think I may be close to it at this point in my life. But I see a great number of men who have not yet managed that transition, and they do great damage in the world.

Which brings me back to Dick Cheney, and his heart...


Doctor Noe said...

Off-subject, maybe but about a guy with miles and miles and miles of heart:

Joe Cryns and the Ugly Hawaiian Shirt

Doctor Noe said...

Yes, I read the Dowd piece too, but you have really put it in perspective. Thanks, Pete.