The spat that I described in my last post ended with the receipt of a sincere apology from my brother after a three-day marathon of back-and-forth emails. He also asked to “start over” with not just me, but my other brothers.
After time for reflection, I learned a lot, albeit painfully, from the whole kerfuffle. In keeping with the Buddhist proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” I stumbled across some teaching from an unlikely source: a child advocacy and parent-teacher education resource called Teach Through Love. Teach Through Love shared an article link on its Facebook page, and highlighted this quote:
“Similarly, our kids push our buttons precisely because they are our children. Psychologists call this phenomenon ‘ghosts in the nursery,’ by which they mean that our children stimulate the intense feelings of our own childhoods, and we often respond by unconsciously re-enacting the past that’s etched like forgotten hieroglyphics deep in our psyches. The fears and rage of childhood are powerful and can overwhelm us even as adults. It can be enormously challenging to lay these ghosts to rest.”
My brother said that his temper flares when he feels overlooked, ignored, or otherwise “disrespected” and he attributed this sensitivity to some disappointments in his life. When we met for dinner last week, I asked him if he thought it might be related to a longing of his for respect from my father, and perhaps the respect of his siblings for him based on birth order.
He scratched his arm repeatedly as he described his experiences with Dad growing up, beginning with Dad’s return from WWII. Dad later asked him to be “the man of the house” when Dad was sent on a solo tour out to Japan just after my sister’s death from leukemia. And when Dad was disabled due to a massive heart attack in 1962, he was called upon again. He was the same age then that my son is now. Instead of focusing on college, he was trying to help the family pull through the crisis of my Dad’s near-death and the aftermath of my father’s forced retirement from the Marine Corps. (In those days, a heart attack meant automatic and full retirement because, with limited treatment options, military command didn’t believe that a soldier would recover sufficiently to fulfill his duties.)
My mother and father often said that they raised their two eldest children, but they let the two youngest raise themselves. We had the same parents, but grew up in different worlds. My younger brother and I mostly grew up in a civilian world — a world, I might add, that Dad found quite deflating. I admired my Dad, but I didn’t think he was perfect. And I told him off – royally – when I was 21. I was tired of feeling afraid of my father, who retained command presence long after leaving the Marines.
When my brother sent his angry email, he felt disrespected by my younger sibling and me. The email that triggered the original firestorm pushed a flashing red button in his brain. But that button was installed long before.