My grandfather suffered from Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 35. He was a warm and generous man, from what I remember. But suffering from such a debilitating progressive disease at such a young age, he faced struggles that we can’t even comprehend, both physical but also emotional.
He tried his best, but couldn’t even play catch with his son, my father. By the time my grandfather was 45 years old, he was already in a wheelchair. At 50, he was almost totally incommunicado. By 62, he had passed away.
Thinking of my grandfather recently – and my father, and down the line of paternal lineage, brought a wave of emotions, most of them confusing and even contradictory.
But there is one thing that’s clear to me: just because you have a negative past association with something, it doesn’t mean you can’t change it.
No matter your personal struggle that manifests into a self-fulfilling prophecy and then, a greater cycle, we can try to break through, changing the narrative for ourselves as well as future generations.
Granted, that’s incredibly difficult. And our grand gestures and olive branches are not always well-received.
When my grandfather could still write despite his rapidly deteriorating disease, he would write letters to my father. Usually, my father received these letters any time he did something that his father didn’t approve of.
I’m sure my grandfather was just doing the best he could despite such impossible circumstances, but he also never wanted to actually speak to his son anymore. Whether he lacked the courage, the interest, or he just wasn’t emotionally capable, my grandfather never tried to reach out and talk with his own son.
But he did write letters.
My grandfather was one of three brothers, all first-generation Americans. And although each of them only achieved an eighth-grade education, they all went on to start successful businesses.
Their domestic lives, however, we’re a different story.
Although it wasn’t spoken about openly, I’m sure that set off the generational cycle that was more negative than positive, passed down from father to son again and again.
In fact, in my early twenties, my father wrote me letters.
At the time, we hadn’t seen each other or even spoken in a number of years. He didn’t make any attempts at reconciliation or even simply picked up the phone to call me.
But he did write letters.
I always received these letters. I’d turn them over in my hands, looking at the handwriting, weighing the emotional depth of what was inside.
But I never opened them.
These letters went unread, stacked in a box and put away deep in the recesses of my closet.
Why do I share this with you?
All of us have strongly ingrained associations. Some are with family, some with friends, and others with our business dealings. They, too, create self-fulfilling prophecies and then, cycles.
So, how do we break that cycle? By changing the narrative, even marginally so.
It’s not easy, but neither is suffering is silence, feeling powerless to reverse the trend we know is unfolding despite our inner resistance.
Thinking of my grandfather, my father, and the burdens they first carried then passed on, like letters browning and fraying with age, I’m resolute that the cycle will end with me.
I’ve found recently that just by doing something that is uncomfortable or unfamiliar, it helps break that chain.
Before we can change, we have to be willing to shift our internal perception, rewriting the narrative. That, too, is harder than it sounds. But the payoff is monumental in our lives, and in the lives of those we love.
Of course, we’re not perfect. I’m sure I’ll make many mistakes when it comes to parenting. And my parents and grandparents were far from perfect, too.
But we can strive to be perfect in how open we are to embracing change for the sake of future generations. To leave loved ones with more than just unopened letters as our legacy.
And for that, it’s never too late.