A letter arrived yesterday from my father. I guess it's the fourth letter I've had from him since we got back in touch earlier this year. Before that, we hadn't communicated since 2005.
He's a very strange fellow, my father, and we used to get along quite well, albeit many, many years ago. But not so much lately. There's a control-obsessed side to his personality, I think, that has kind of goofed things up between us. (Or there's a rebellious side to my personality that has done so, or both.)
At any rate, I'm starting to get the impression from these recent letters that he's decided to live by a principle that he and my mom repeated endlessly when I was a child: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
All of his recent letters have been very, very short.
I sent him something on his birthday this year. He responded with a letter that acknowledged receipt but made no mention of whether he'd liked it or even opened it. (That was the ice-breaker after our long mutual silence). He offered to send me a memoir he's been working on. I readily accepted and offered to send him my recent books. He sent me the memoir without mentioning my offer. I sent him the books anyway, and heard nothing back. I read the memoir and sent some notes on that (he'd asked for feedback). He sent this most recent letter, which basically thanked me for my notes and then waxed philosophical about something out of left field that I didn't really get. (I showed the letter to a friend who said it reminded him of someone's drunken ramblings. But since I could hear it in my father's voice, it didn't sound quite that illucid to me.)
My point in sharing all of this is simple: Love is stronger than affection.
I love my father, even though he gives me very little reason to feel any warmth or kindness toward him. I sympathize with him on some health concerns that he has, and I feel a sort of sad pity that he's blocked himself away from me and my siblings to various degrees.
But I continue to make my efforts not out of sympathy or pity.
I make them because I love him, and because I love the memory of the time when I did feel warmly toward him.
This is one of the dangers of love, then. It can persist beyond affection -- and if it does so, it can make us feel trapped in obligations that burden us without bringing real joy.
Love without joy is a heavy, hard thing.
In making my efforts, in responding to my father, in taking his eccentricities with the best humor that I can, I maintain a state of hope. It's not a hope likely to be fulfilled -- he is probably never going to apologize for any of the harsh things he's said and done, any more than I would fake an apology for what I perceive to be my perfectly unobjectionable behavior, which he nonetheless has somehow managed to object to.
But it is a hope nonetheless, because hope is part of love.
And while we have moved beyond affection, there is power in hoping that it might return.
Thank you, goddess of love, for my father. Please salve his bitterness, buoy his spirit, and let him be happy and bring happiness to those around him.