Issue No. 77/December 23, 1996 



Yesterday would have been my father's birthday had he not died about 16 years ago. Perhaps his birth was a holiday gift to his parents. I do not know whether they considered that possibility.

I never really knew my father very well. He and my mother were divorced when I was about 9 and he moved to California from New York thereafter. As a result, I got to see him usually only during my school summer vacations when I would visit him. You cannot truly get to know someone under those circumstances. I was too young to share my pain with him and he was too far away even if I did. His influence on my life, however real and lasting, was more about his absence than his presence.

My life would be nothing like it is today had he and my mother not divorced and had he not come to the west coast. And since my life is simply wonderful now, none of that would have been possible had my father and mother not divorced. Although I certainly did not know it at the time it occurred, that divorce was one of the great gifts from the universe I have ever been given.

I do not believe that my father considered our separated relationship as a gift. I am quite certain that it was very painful to him. But I was also too young at the time to appreciate his pain and he was likely in too much pain to understand it.

Despite wanting to have my father know me in his later years, and mine as well, I was not yet ready to know enough about myself to explain me to him fully before he died. I was still at a very shallow level of understanding and could not find the real words to express anything that now seems meaningful about who I was, what I wanted, what effect he had on my life and other such rather important matters.

I did have an opportunity however, at the Christmas before he died, to have dinner with him and explain the little I knew about who I was. And because I could not know that he would die seven months later, the opportunity now seems to have been a gift to me. And perhaps to him as well but I did not know him well enough to know whether he saw it as such.

Having been able to explain something about who his son was, when my father died I felt saddened but fulfilled with our relationship. I do not know that I would have felt this way had so much been left unsaid. I believe that the very important relationships in our lives must be reconciled, drawn to some conclusion, however incomplete, in order that we may move past them into other levels of growth. Until those relationships are completed, we must relearn the karmic lessons they represent.

I do not believe that during his life, my father understood his gift to me. Since I did not understand it until much later, it is likely the point was missed upon him. That we do not fully appreciate the gifts we give others does not diminish their value.

But all of our knowledge, at any time in our lives, is incomplete at best no matter how much we believe we know. We can never know the full value of any event at the moment it is given to us. What we believe the event means often gets modified as subsequent events in our lives occur.

The real value of a gift comes with the understanding of its meaning much later. That value comes in what the gift brings to our lives over time. The value of such an important gift as parenting is about how it enriches the lives of both the parent and the child during the lives of both. The value comes from what each learns about the other and what each teaches the other. The value comes from what both the parent and the child then take into subsequent lives and how those original gifts of each other change the lives of those who come much later.

Sometimes, however, gifts are not seen as such. Indeed the value of any gift often comes from seeing it as a gift in the first place.

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman



Where Next? 

More of The Column || Home