I had a lot of dreams last night, but I don’t remember much of them. Just one–where I had decided to pack up my things and go on a vacation with my family, and the airport was right there. Who, exactly, my family consisted of in the dream, I’m not sure–I think my mom and my Aunt were there. But, we had to wait for my Uncle to arrive, and I kept trying to remember something important about him that would inform why it was unusual that we were waiting for him. I knew that I had to go “check in” at the airport before I could be ready to fly, but I was also still struggling to get my socks, shoes and other items packed correctly before I could even do that. I think my Aunt said to me: “You had better hurry, you know that your Uncle doesn’t like to wait–he will be here and then he will be gone.” Again, I had a weird feeling about him, that something wasn’t quite right about the fact that he was going to appear and then travel with us. Presumably, he was getting off another plane. As I rushed up to the ticketing counter to check in, I saw him get off the plane and walk directly in front of me without noticing me. He had his eyes on my Aunt and they were delighted to see each other. Before I could check in, I woke up.
I tend to have a lot of dreams like that–I am getting ready to go somewhere by car or by plane, and it is all very exciting, and then something happens, and usually I never get to go where I wanted to go. In that sense, these dreams are a lot like real life–I am finding myself moving into middle age quietly and mournfully accepting the loss of these dreams of travel–most of them will probably never happen in this lifetime.
Then, there is this whole business of my Uncle popping up in a lot of recent dreams. I know that I have continued to hold some small grudges against him, for the way that he was always picking away at me and critiquing me, without really ever anything positive to say. I suspect there is something in my subconscious telling me to forgive and forget, even as I think that I have done that. Clearly, I haven’t completely forgiven him for his generally arrogant, unhelpful and destructive criticism that he probably thought was just assertive, helpful and constructive–or, just what I needed the most. Of course, it was no business of his, really, to decide what I needed or didn’t need to improve myself, and he generally offered no input on how to construct a broader life strategy of defining my unique goals and mapping out how to work toward achieving them. His business, along with my Aunt to a large degree when he was stil alive, was to offer constant little snits and nits and picks at something I said, often totally misinterpreting what I had to say because he seemed to be constantly expecting the worst from me.
There is plenty more to be said about those four-five encounters with him–the first one happening when they took my to Spain for a high school graduation present, the second being after the first semester of college, the third being that summer when our entire family came down to visit him, and then the third and worst one being that summer after my Junior year in college which was a so-called vacation where every waking hour was spent being bathed in criticism.
I suspect his personality was the result of being raised as a Baptist minister’s son, and he came to thoroughly reject all forms of religion. His first wife and daughter committed suicide, and this story was never fully told. He had two fraternal twin sons, one of whom I asked to be my best man at my wedding because I wasn’t interested in dredging up old college and MCE drinking-buddy friendships. The man who was my groom’s man had a similar personality to his father–very much the engineer who sought to constantly critique and improve everyone and everything, generally setting himself up as the subject matter expert on whatever was being discussed. Eventually, I came to understand the nature of how and why the father and son approached the world the way that they did. I can’t say as I ever fully appreciated it, or ever will, but I don’t think there was ever malice in my Uncle’s criticism, so much as a lot of misplaced ego–taking me on as an improvement project and succeeding at making me a better person (or at least taking credit for it) was a way to make him feel better about himself. This notion of: I must fix this young man at all costs, no matter what the cost (emotional, not financial mind you) was taken to such extremes that he ended up setting himself up as a rather dreadful person to spend time with.
His and my aunt’s other human improvement projects largely consisted of their grandchildren–three sons of my cousin who had gone on to become a schoolteacher after a rocky start to her adult life, but the man she’d married and had kids with never intellectually matured, though I think he did have a good heart and had his heart in the right place for his kids, even if he wasn’t ever going to improve his professional self the way my cousin did. My aunt and uncle generally seemed to detest my cousin’s husband, and invested a lot (very much financial in this case) into their grandsons–and the results were mixed.
If my uncle ever bothered to stop and reflect on his life, he probably carried around a lot of guilt with him. He had managed to do great things in his professional life and with some of his children and extended family human improvement projects, but I think there was probably more than a little resentment toward him coming from all of the people who had to endure years of him picking at them and critiquing them. If being married to him was anything like those brief, intense trips that I hung out with him (and I tried as much as possible to run off and do my own thing when I could on these trips), then that marriage must have been pure hell.
So, are my dreams trying to insert my Uncle into my conscious psyche so that I will forgive and forget lest I end up dead with such a karmic attraction still there? Or, is my Uncle floating around in some kind of purgatory, waiting for the remaining people in this world who still hold grudges against him to let go so that he can be released and sent on to his next life or heaven or what have you?
Either way, it certainly isn’t helpful for me to still hold any sort of grudge or bitterness toward him. Saying, “I forgive you and will try to forget those hurtful moments” isn’t enough. I have to spend time dredging up some of of those past moments, and eyeing them objectively and disinterestedly, as if I had never directly participated in them, and them dismiss them as being no longer helpful or useful to retain as memories that shape my core identity and sense of self.
As I become a more engaged father (in the sense of being an intellectual, emotional and spiritual caretaker and not just a physical one), I can see why a man often needs to become authoritative and simply tell his son, “no, you can’t do that because I said so.” It always seemed to be the mark of a weak parent who didn’t want to take the time to rationalize and empathize with the child to convince them of a better choice, but in my interactions with my son, I can see that it will be many years before I can just sit down with him and have a talk and he will begin to see a better way of doing something.