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Moshe Callen
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Jerusalem
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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My father was born in June of 1938. He might survive until he turns 80 but I am faced with the reality that it is very unlikely that he will see 81. His health has been poor for a while. He's had more than one stroke and has been in and out (mostly in) of hospital for the past two month. Even before that, he'd been going into hospital not infrequently for a while. My mother is the sort of person who insists everything is fine even when patently it is not; so when even she admits this much, I can only wonder how bad the situation really is. Certainly the man I grew up with and remember whose mind was vibrant is gone and has been for a while. What pains me most is that for most of the past two decades, I have been unable to interact with the father I want to remember, the one who in spite of all does truly love me. Instead I have run into the wall of the abusive religious bigot.

My father was born in Missouri where my family had lived for generations. He had met my mother years before, but married her some time after he returned from serving in the USAF (due to a draft) in Libya and Saudi Arabia. Together with the beginning of a family, they took an opportunity to immigrate to Australia where the younger two of my three sisters were born, where my eldest sister arrived when she was just six months old. That was only the beginning of the adventure. Having always done woodworking and carpentry, Dad took to building boats in Australia and would with my mother sail them up and down the Great Barrier Reef. He would build one boat, sail it some, and then sell it to finance building a bigger and better boat. Eventually he decided he wanted to sail round the world. My mother agreed to it provided that wherever he went, he took her and the family along. She'd seen too many families essentially abandoned to accept it otherwise.

Only eight days after the birth of my youngest sister, they started out from Maryborough, Queensland. It always sounded to me like they were saying Maryburl. Going round the northern coast of Australia, they stuck close to land. Dad always claimed there were rumored to be pirates with speedboats and machine guns operating out of Indonesia. Luckily if the rumors were true, they never saw any. From there, the journey continued westward across the Indian Ocean, landing for weeks or months at a time at whatever island Dad had steered for. To finance the trip, Dad would go ashore and take whatever job he could get to save up for a bit. He'd done surveying in the Air Force and between that and his carpentry and woodworking skills, he always found work. Ironically he'd originally trained as a doctor but had in medical school developed an aversion to large amounts of blood so that he had had to finish out in chiropractic school. So far as I know, he never practiced in my lifetime.

The trip took its toll though and the family seemed to have had enough by the time they got to Africa. In Mozambique, not long before the decades' long civil war broke out, Dad had been willing to sell the boat and come ashore but the man making the offer turned out to be a conman. Dad ended up having to sail away in the middle of one night because the police wanted someone to blame and Dad was still there when the conman left. The latter had used his planned deal with Dad to back various other financial schemes.

So Dad ended up working as a truck driver of all things in apartheid era South Africa. Quite frankly, my father is a typical Southern bigot but his racism has always been the unconscious kind. He did not know better than to believe the gov't propaganda that surrounded the trial in which Nelson Mandela went to prison, but he was horrified when one day he was reprimanded for driving a truck off the road rather than running over a black man on a bicycle. By this time, my mother had become pregnant with me.

My parents decided they did not want me to be born in South Africa and so with my mother increasingly heavily pregnant, the family set out across the Atlantic. The only place they managed to stop was the island where Napoleon died, which they described as a huge rock sticking out of the water with no natural harbors and not much anchorage. As such, no opportunity existed to arrange re-supplies along the route. They ran out of food. For years, my mother blamed herself due to that fact for my being born with nystagmus and related birth defects in the eyes. Only as an adult did I finally have proof it was not her fault.

The plan had been for the family to reunite for a couple of months with relatives, to let my mother recuperate from my birth, and then to continue the journey back to Australia which my parents still thought of as home. The boat had landed in Florida, specifically Ft. Lauderdale in the early 70's. The person Dad choose to hire to watch the boat while the family flew to Missouri instead absconded with the money and abandoned the boat. So it was robbed and stripped. All the equipment, even parts of the engine every sailboat is required to have by modern naval regulations, were simply gone. The vessel was not seaworthy anymore and Dad did not immediately have the money to repair it. I grew up in America because the family was stranded. They had kept US citizenship and so were told they were at home in America. No one would help them go home to Australia. The resulting resentment meant that US patriotic holidays were pointedly ignored by my family while I grew up in jingoistic Cold War America going to public schools of the era.

While in Australia, Dad had experienced a fairly textbook Christian religious experience. He'd grown up at least nominally Catholic but always claimed his childhood family had practiced various kinds of occultism at home. He spent most nights on the boat studying the Christian Bible as he kept an eye out to see they did not drift off course. Dad had used a couple of pieces of rope to rig a rudimentary but effective self-steering device so that he did not have to keep his hand on the tiller the entire time. Dad only knows English but he read one Christian translation after another. Eventually he became a twice ordained minister, first Episcopalian and then Southern Baptist. My guess is that he went to seminary the first time in South Africa while working as a truck driver, and that he went the second time after returning to Missouri. That never seems to be time enough and so its also possible he did at least some of it via correspondence courses much like how my sisters did schooling while at sea.

Shortly before I turned four, Dad accepted a post in an obscure Texas border town as a minister in a vacant church. Yet he knew that my mother (whose parents had died tragically and horribly when she was a small child but not in the Shoa as I understand) was/is Jewish and hence all his children were as well. One of my earliest memories is of my father explaining to me that I am a Jew. He studied very Orthodox Jewish works in translation and taught them to me. In particular, he taught me that the Torah is True, that one must do what it says, and that one must always be willing to accept that one's understanding of Torah is imperfect. Thus one must always be willing to re-evaluate one's opinions and to change them in light of new understanding. In the end, Dad drifted to so-called Messianic Judaism before a term for that set of beliefs really had a name. What he taught me religiously formed the basis for me of scientific and academic inquiry. Each just used different premises.

I knew though the day I came to the reluctant conclusion that Christianity is incompatible with Torah that as soon as Dad found out, he would feel morally obligated to cut off all relations with me. So I avoided and dodged the topic as long as possible. Finally Dad pinned me down on the subject. The last genuine communication I have ever had with my father was a letter from him I still have somewhere in which he tells me that I am going to hell.

Oh, after I announced I was getting married, Dad nominally started talking to me again but only to insult me and to belittle me to my wife. After the birth of my first child, my parents together sent my wife a creepy letter which informed her that she must go on having children until she had a boy but avoided any direct mention of me. My wife said it read to her as if she was being addressed as a widow but at the same time was somehow being told that she must have more children. When I demanded to be treated with a modicum of respect and common decency, I was treated as being totally unreasonable. Yet none of what was happening in regards to how I was treated and talked to was my imagination. Others in the family (just not my parents) acknowledged it without my having to say anything.

Now I cannot even demand to be treated with respect. The brilliant man who was my father is gone, albeit not dead yet. I cannot blame his physical abuse on his radical form of Christianity, but he certainly tried to justify it in that way. Now I am wishing I could have one more real conversation with him before the end and hoping that the physical violence and threat of it I grew up with does not completely overwhelm all other aspects of his memory when the time does come.
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William Boykin
United States
Texas
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I know its tough...


But dont let bitterness towards your dad poison your soul. Seek closure, but find peace in that you have made a wonderful life.

William
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Kelsey Rinella
United States
Rochester
New York
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Thank you for sharing that. I’ve no particularly relevant words of comfort to offer, but I do hope that you should be comforted.
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Mac Mcleod
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houston
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By forgiving him, you free yourself.

By not passing the violence to your children you make things better and end the cycle.
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Lee Fisher
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Downingtown
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Remarkable story, thanks for sharing.
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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lfisher wrote:
Remarkable story, thanks for sharing.

I left out that we left Texas on another boat my father had built.Dad wanted to finish the trip but with a side trip to Europe thrown in. We set out across the Gulf of Mexico but the weather was just too rough and so we ended up taking most of a summer going through the intracoastal. We did go straight across from Pensacola to Tampa and through the Okeechobee waterway to the east coast of Florida. Years later I found out Mom said at that point we was too old to go sailing round the world again and that if Dad wanted to do it he could go off alone. He was not fool enough to try it.
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Vic Lineal
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It is an interesting story, thanks for sharing. I hope you have found a way to deal with your father that lets you have peace with it.
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Jasper
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Thanks for sharing. It's rare that we get an honest personal story here in RSP. Makes the place better. All the best.
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Adrian Hague
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Wow, that was some read. I admire your bravery and candour.

The worst thing about neurodegenerative disorders is that you lose the person before they die.

Moshe, I sincerely hope you find the peace that you justifiably seek.
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Andre
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I must say, regardless of what happens, your father had a very colorful life. I wouild suggest attempting to make peace with him one last time. That peace might not be made, but there is no shame, or loss to be had in trying. My father has a falling out with a relative, a longstanding one that was never resolved before his death. Sadly, I think it was the biggest regret, of his life. I hope it turns out well for you.
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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abadolato01 wrote:
I must say, regardless of what happens, your father had a very colorful life. I wouild suggest attempting to make peace with him one last time. That peace might not be made, but there is no shame, or loss to be had in trying. My father has a falling out with a relative, a longstanding one that was never resolved before his death. Sadly, I think it was the biggest regret, of his life. I hope it turns out well for you.

Even when he was mentally there, he would not acknowledge the situation.In our last real exchange, I did tell him I love him but I had to hear from a sister that he said he loves me and is proud of me. That was while he was still somewhat there.
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Josh
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Mkshe, why do you think your father took such care teaching you the Torah, not his native scripture, if he knew it could lead to such a schism?
 
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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Shadrach wrote:
Mkshe, why do you think your father took such care teaching you the Torah, not his native scripture, if he knew it could lead to such a schism?

He did not think it would. To his mind, Torah and the Christian Bible were the same. He thought Christians misunderstood it but that if somehow one could recover what J actually taught there would be no contradiction.
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Thanks for sharing, Moshe. I think one of hardest things about parents getting dementia or any mental impairment are all the unresolved issues that will never end up being resolved. Particularly after a long period of estrangement. The apology you wish you would have gotten, the talk you wish you could have had, the family they will never really ever know now. I don't have anything to say that will really help there, other than to concentrate on the relationships that are good and trying to remember something good from the past among all the bad.

My thoughts will be with you, Sue
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CHAPEL
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Round Rock
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Heh, family...the only thing in the world you can't choose..
 
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John Hathorn
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MWChapel wrote:
Heh, family...the only thing in the world you can't choose..
That and cancer
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It sounds like your parents had adventurous lives, unfortunately tinged with significant fears and disappointments. Your mother feared her husband leaving, both disappointed not to be assisted in returning to Australia.
Your mother is the parent still actively with you. Continue to put your constructive energy into that relationship. I hope you find a way to release your father and any lingering bitterness over the past.

God speed.
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Jo llyboat
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Portland
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Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Best wishes for you, your mom, and all your family.
 
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Professor of Pain
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My mother died a month ago, aged 82. She had dementia as well. She hadn't been the person I used to know for quite awhile, and the past year in particular she was not really there. In a way who she was died years ago and her body just finally caught up.

My four siblings and I were sad at her death but ultimately it's a relief, really. What she suffered the past couple years...
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J.D. Hall
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Oklahoma
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I feel your pain in a way. My father was quite intelligent, had a Ph.D in physics (BS in Meteorology), an Air Force lifer who spent the last 30 years of his life happily selling used books to people and making a ton of money doing it. But he developed dementia, then had four small strokes in the space of a few months. The last time I saw him, he was twisted up in a wheelchair, spoke hardly anything, yet seemed pleased he knew the word on the cafeteria whiteboard read "green beans."

My wife could connect with some of the rest of your story. She was estranged from her father, who had divorced her mother when she was 2, and was intermittingly in and out of her life. They got along well when together, but his new wife kept my wife at bay. When he died, all her resentment and sadness put her into a deep depression she has only recently freed herself from.

It is sad he and your mother allowed religion to separate themselves from you and your family. They lost far more than you ever had -- I'm approaching 60 right now, but have no grandchildren, something I was surprised to find I desired quite deeply.

Try not to be angry. Sadness is appropriate, more for what they missed than what you were denied. You have the chance to not continue the sins of the father onto your children. Children learn unconditional love from their parents -- it's the best lesson there is -- and you can break the cycle started by your parents. The Bible says that children are a blessing. Evidently, that didn't sink in.
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Walt
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Orange County
California
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I have a big, long-lived family, so I've personally lost, heard of, talked about, and seen relatives (and friends) deal with a lot of death. Our parents, especially, are our childhood heroes; it's tough to lose them.

Humans tend to focus on negatives; they're the danger. So, we remember the negative situations with those we lose. I don't think it's good to dwell on the negative: I've seen too many relatives beat themselves up, holding annual memorials so they can feel bad "like they're supposed to." We all remember the bad things, but I think it's good to remember the very best of a relationship; when you think of bad things, finish by remembering the best. Eventually, you can move to thinking of the person fondly, as if they've just stepped out of the room; I find myself often seeing something and thinking, "I'll have to tell ____ about this," he or she being long passed.

I find I go through stages of thinking about people I've lost. The heroism falls away and I see more of the human underneath, layer by layer. I find I first tend to rationalize their behavior, but then recognize, they were mostly stumbling through life, buffeted by their emotions and biases, like all of us.

Take care of yourself, please.
 
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Les Marshall
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Nothing said here wouldn't be better said in person over a beer (or whatever your particular poison).

Why is it for so many of us that our parents are the sources of our deepest wounds? Why are we called upon to obtain or even seek understanding or "closure" as the inevitable tide of mortality closes in?

My own father was lost several years ago and remained lucid until quite near the end. He wasn't a person in the habit of discussing personal issues or feelings and that never changed. My mother was and is, by far the greater trial, and will likely never possess the greater insights to understand the costs she has imposed on those around her no matter how many words may be expended on the effort.

It's good to reflect at times like these but only you can grant yourself any real peace of mind.
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Blue Mountain
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Thanks for sharing.

The barrier reef in those days would have been amazing
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Grand Admiral Thrawn
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New Jersey
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Thanks for sharing.
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