A young man writes to his father to ask if he will look inside for the love to change his racism.
It was fun shopping with you yesterday. You know I enjoy our Saturday hangouts, and I guess you do too because I know you don’t do anything you don’t want to do. I feel like I’ve been really getting to know you lately, and as you’re about to find out in your Christmas card this year, I love you.
I just wanted to get that out up front, because it feels hard to write this letter—it might seem harsh at times, but the intention is loving.
And I really appreciate the jacket you got for my birthday. I don’t want to seem ungrateful by writing this, because I really am grateful—that jacket’s going to see me through a lot of countries!
But as much as I enjoyed leaving that note on that car, it later reminded me of something that consistently makes me sad about our relationship.
I have included the note here as a keepsake, and because I genuinely think it’s funny. I picked it up on the way out of Anaconda because I like to scrapbook: I don’t like to let notes and scraps of memories just drift off into the breeze of the past. I’m sentimental like that, as you know.
The thing about this note is I found it so funny, so much the highlight of our morning together, that I shared the sentiment with my friends on Facebook. I wrote, “Today my dad called someone a bandit.” And I was proud.
I was proud, and it was funny, because who uses the word “bandit” these days?, and it was the highlight of my day because I enjoyed sitting in the car with you and choosing that word because you didn’t want to swear.
I thought it was incredibly endearing that you didn’t want to swear. You’re not a massive swearer, but I appreciated the sentiment and enjoyed thinking up light-hearted ways of communicating our discontent without resorting to negative slurs. Positivity has become immensely important to me lately, and I jump at any chance to use positive language where otherwise I might have cussed.
So I wrote this on my Wall because I’m a big fan of irony and I assumed my friends would understand that because no one uses the word “bandit” these days, we must have encountered some bastard on our outing and had fun by calling him a bandit instead. I like to give my audience a lot of credit.
This is where I got a little bit sad, because writing that post made me think about how “bandit” was a pleasant departure from “towelhead.”
I wondered if that was why I had enjoyed the game so much, and thought about including this addendum to the sentiment in my post—the bit about it being a departure from your usual racism. But when I wrote it out it seemed a little harsh, and I didn’t want to misrepresent you to a bunch of my Facebook friends just so I could demonstrate that I do not sympathise with cultural slurs.
Actually I realised that I would be embarrassed. I don’t otherwise associate with anyone who calls people “towelheads.”
It became one of those moments we have as we come into adulthood where we realize that our adult parents are fallible, and that, frankly, if they weren’t our parents, we probably wouldn’t hang out with them.
It was a sad moment because our use of ‘bandit’ really was a departure from your usual “towelhead” or “curry muncher,” which reminded me that you really are a racist—a xenophobe and a bigot.
Racism, xenophobia and bigotry are three things I find it extremely difficult to tolerate and understand, and it is sad that I have to endure them from you, my father, a man who is supposed to be my role model.
It is a painful thing, to be growing up and realizing that you have changed so much in thirty years that you now no longer resemble your father’s son—you now resemble only yourself, and yourself is vastly and painfully different from your father.
It’s painful to realise your father is a bandit.
I mean, we’ve all always known that about you—especially you. And that’s painful too, to watch you resign yourself to being a miserable bastard. You hate yourself so much that you call people towelheads because smoke came out of their exhaust pipe and into your air-conditioning, and are so resigned to this that you were unapologetic when we pulled alongside and the driver was a white guy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, and distracted at the same time.
I’m writing you this letter because I have noticed this difference between us and I think it’s important for us to attempt to understand each other across this great divide. That’s what I do: it’s why I’ve been placed on this earth for now, this time. This is the primary mission of all the work I do, and I realized a good place to start would be at home.
I want to understand why you harbor anger for people you don’t know.
I’m publishing this letter online because I believe the gap that separates us is shared by many others of our generations.
The difference between you and I is that I try to love everyone, and you don’t try to anything anyone. You are lazy in this regard, because it requires constant effort and vigilance to look around at our world and see through the cesspool stuff and arrive at the pearls and gems. You were also not trained in love—I understand that. Neither was I, because you weren’t. I got a lot of love from Mum, but she is fallible too, and was not able to love me enough to make up for your absence.
I know you are of that generation of 1950s Australian men who were not raised to love. From the little I understand about your upbringing I know your old man was a bandit and you were one of six boys growing up in the country. That would have been incredibly hard, and it’s unfair that in our society and culture we are not raised to love.
I have talked about this so much with my friends that “1950s Australian men who were not raised to love” has almost become a phrase—we need to shorten it, so we don’t have to go through the mouthful each time we want to express the understanding we have for our parents.
But frankly, we’ve talked about it so much I’m tired of understanding the reasons and excuses for our loveless society and am ready to just change the way I am so that I do not perpetuate the culture that caused me to feel unrequited love for my father for thirty years.
I’m nearly crying as I write this, but I don’t cry.
I don’t cry anymore.
I have to pay a therapist to cry, and when I do it comes out in massive clumps, like coagulated blood from old wounds, so deep and forgotten I don’t even know what I’m crying about.
The first time it happened I seriously thought I was going to explode. I thought I would expand into the universe and disappear into it. I felt an immense grief for all of humanity, and it felt something like universal compassion, this huge, grand, transcendental concept described by Buddhist mystics and the like for over thousands of years.
I felt immense gratitude at the end of that session: gratitude that I could still feel so much love, for myself and others. It was a truly transcendental experience, and I touched the knowledge that no amount of socio-cultural conditioning can extinguish the deep and all-inclusive love that we all have at the center of our existence.
An agape-centric universe—there’s an idea we wouldn’t be able to discuss! But there is love in you, even: it just needs to be uncovered.
Surprisingly, somehow, I have arrived at what I wanted to tell you without having to go through a whole lot of sentimental or painful stuff.
I want to tell you that you can be responsible for your own happiness. You don’t have to remain trapped by the circumstances of your upbringing. Look at me: I love everyone, even though you didn’t love me.
And I mean that—both of those things. I learned to love everyone because I didn’t get a lot of love from you. It could have gone either way, and I feel blessed by the divine that somewhere, somehow, I found the capacity to go out and find others to be my family. Mum was a huge inspiration of course—she has a massive heart—but also I believe I was blessed with something, gifted with some sort of resilience, because instead of going inwards and deciding to hate everyone as retaliation the way you seem to have done, I went outwards and made friends with people who now are like family to me. You’ve met them, and you’ll see them again on Christmas day if you come up. They’re looking forward to seeing you. They love me, and therefore you. That’s how it works—it’s contagious.
But now, brace yourself, because maybe this will seem harsh again as well, but it may be that I love everyone because you didn’t love me. I mean, somehow, some part of the way you turned out has inspired me. You have inspired me to never wind up like you, miserable and gnarled, like that old walnut tree you tried to poison. (Why did you do that, by the way? And what was your response when it still sprouted leaves? You were glad.) By aspiring to not be anything like you, I have grown up loving everyone.
You ask me, “Where do you find all these women?” and I delight in being some kind of benevolent womaniser, failing to acknowledge that there have been so many women because the relationships never worked out. I joked at the markets yesterday about how the woman I’m seeing now has grown frustrated because I’m afraid of intimacy. We joked about how I got that from you. But I’m not afraid of intimacy with others—I’m afraid of intimacy with myself, which does dilute my intimacy with others. I got that from you.
For years I asked you, ‘Why do you stay with that witch?’ and you delighted in being some kind of malevolent martyr, missing that there have been so few women in your life because you never worked out—you never did work on your heart muscle. You stayed in a hateful engagement because you go into the world expecting to not find love.
I fall in love with people left right and center because I go into the world each day hoping to feel love.
The way to find love is to feel love.
You go into the world thinking that towelheads will fuck up everything or that just when everything is going smoothly for a change a bunch of hippies will jump in front of your trucks and ruin your fucking day. (Senselessly, you wrote to me about this, thinking I would sympathize with you, not the hippies trying to prevent your occupational involvement in destroying our environment.)
Well you know what? It’s not your fucking day—it’s our day, everyone’s.
We all share every moment we exist in the world, and if we go around thinking peace and harmony occur occasionally for a change then everything will seem like a bumpy ride and we can all go on being grumpy bandits.
If instead we learn to see that peace and harmony are our natural state, we will then know that it is the turmoil that is here for a change: turmoil is the anomaly, and peace the constant, not the other way round. Turmoil is a catalyst.
I shouldn’t have used the phrase “peace and harmony:—something less rainbow colored might be “calm and contentment.”
The point is, it doesn’t have to be this way: I am taking responsibility for my happiness, and so can you.
It takes courage, but I’m up for the challenge.
Finally, and I couldn’t find anywhere to naturally slip this in, so here it is, straight up:
It hurts me deeply and personally when you make racial slurs about people in my company; you know that I have traveled overseas to immerse myself in foreign cultures because i have found ours lacking; you know some of my dear friends are Thai, and that I long to spend a long time learning from Hindus and Buddhists in India; you know I don’t support the war in the Middle East and that I do support our intake of refugees—or I would, if our policies were humane.
And if you hadn’t deduced this already, I’ll tell you now that I think of everyone in the world as a part of my extended family, and as such I love them equally. So when you call someone a “curry muncher” you are directly insulting someone who could be a brother to me, someone who could love me like a brother.
When you disparage someone because of their race, color or creed, you insult my intelligence and my emotional judgement. You may as well look me in the eye and say, “Your love is foolish.”
When we’re in the car and you express your unjustified hatred for someone, you ignore everything about me that means anything to me. When you belittle people in front of me even though you know how it makes me feel, you belittle me as well.
Please respect others and attempt to accept their differences.
Please respect me and my attempts to understand and love those differences.
And please respect yourself. If nothing else, please try to do this, because all the rest will follow.
You always said you couldn’t love us because you couldn’t love yourself. Well snap out of it, because thirty years ago you conceived a life you were responsible for, and if you can’t step up to the plate to love yourself for yourself, the least you could do is love yourself for us. There’s still time, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly the love grows back, no matter which way round you start trying it on—for us, then you, for you, then us. There’s still time.
Photo: adrenus craton/Flickr