In the 27.5 years I knew Ed, I knew he was plagued by the childhood he had… or was deprived of. Much to my annoyance and at times lack of understanding, he frequently brought up painful memories of his childhood that clearly shaped who he became as an adult. One of the most frequent recollections he shared with me was how he felt ignored and rejected by our father.
I recently read a book about friends and relationships. In it, the author states that being ignored is one of the most psychologically damaging state for a human being; it is even worse than being treated poorly. Our father has always had his own demons and problems; he frequently to this day talks to himself loudly, even when in the presence of our family and even in public. At times, it’s like he is more interested in talking to himself and swearing at some mysterious person in his head than he is in speaking with me or my mother. When Ed was little and my dad was around, he told me he’d frequently try to get our father’s attention, but our father would ignore him and continue talking to himself. He’d shoo him away and say he was busy and continue to talk to himself. It’s one of the very embarrassing things I’ve had to deal with growing up and particularly now as an adult when I invite friends over. It’s one of the many reasons I don’t really like to invite anyone to our house when I am back in San Francisco.
Ed said he fought hard to get our father’s attention; he used to throw things, make loud noises, do anything to force our father to pay attention to him. Our father would just yell at him, name call him or say he’s stupid or dumb, and then continue tinkering with whatever he was occupying himself with in the basement. Eventually, Ed realized he was never going to win, and he gave up. He recalled that when our father did pay him any attention, it was to call him an idiot or a dummy or a moron or some other hurtful insult. In my own memory, I recall being called an idiot as young as five years old. I’m certain Ed had it even worse as a boy and the first born. As he got to his teen years, he decided to start giving our father a taste of his own medicine; he’d ignore him, too. From his early teens up until the point of his death, he rarely had a real conversation with our father unless it was absolutely forced or needed. And when he did talk to him, his tone was completely different and sullen, and he was always bracing himself for the next insult. For the rest of his short life, he never knew what it was like to have a father’s love and respect. There was absolutely no mutual respect between the two. And I knew during many occasions that our father’s cutting words never stopped having an effect on my brother because whenever it happened, Ed would freeze with pain and tell me constantly that he was waiting for the day for him to die so he’d be free of his criticisms.
No parent is perfect, just as no child is perfect. But what I will say is that being a parent requires more than just putting a roof over your child’s head, sending him to school, and placing food on his dinner plate. Those are like the bare essentials that a parent should provide to his child. That should not force a child to respect a parent.
In his last weeks, Ed told me he stopped blaming our parents; he blamed himself and only himself. I told him he was wrong, that it wasn’t his fault. You’re the victim in this, I said. He personally wanted to relinquish all his hate.
The sad thing, though, is that it was wrong for him to blame himself; he was blinded by his suffering. I’ll never forget that conversation because I knew then that he’d given up on living.