December 20, 2012
The Wisdom of Parents
There are a lot of things we never thank our parents for. I’m not talking about the money it took to raise us, or the time we took from their lives, or even the love they gave, or the sacrifices they made. I’m talking about the wisdom they imparted. In particular, the wisdom we didn’t realize we got until later in life, too often after they are gone.
The Best Parts of Life
I’ve lived long enough to be able to say that one of the best parts of life is the validation you get from knowing that all your years of hard work meant something. I have always tried to pass along to my kids some of the wisdom my parents spent so much time teaching us. It’s a difficult proposition, and sometimes the lessons that seemed the simplest were, in fact, the most difficult. I’m writing today about the one lesson that took the longest time to come around and show me how much wisdom was there…
As kids, we all learned about “forgive and forget,” but I never knew until later how easy the forgive part was, and how difficult it was to forget.
There’s a hilarious scene in the movie Donnie Brasco, where Johnny Depp is explaining to his fellow FBI agents the different meanings of the word fahgettaboutit. The funniest part of the scene is that it’s true. Think about how many meanings the word “forget” has.
◆ “Did you forget to wash your hands?” your mother asked when you were little. The tone was sweet, perhaps with the slightest hint of annoyance.
Then there’s this one, from your spouse or partner:
◆ “Did you forget to stop at the store?” Hands planted on hips. Lips firmly pressed together. Head cocked. No sweet tone. Lots of annoyance.
You respond with: “Sorry. I’ll go back.”
◆ “Forget it!” Exclamation point intended. Hands waving in air. Said while giving you her back.
There are lots of other meanings for forget, but I want to focus on a very specific meaning. The part of forget that goes with forgive.
Forgive and Forget
If you’ve read my blog a lot, you know that I felt I had about the greatest parents in the world, and the amazing things is, even at my age, I continue to get lessons that show me just how great they were.
My mother and father never said I told you so, or brought up past misdeeds, of which there were many, especially in my case. I had an older brother who did no wrong. He won the religion award for the whole school, maybe the whole diocese. He didn’t smoke. He seldom cursed. He did what my parents asked. Whew! So when my brother Doggs and I came along we must have made my parents wonder what they had done to piss God off. While church was going on we were in a back room in the store down the street playing cards with our other devout friends. We were smoking before first grade, stealing cigarettes, and getting into trouble at every turn.
But with all the grief we caused, my parents never once brought up past deeds. It was as if they really did ‘forget’ when they forgave.
I learned later in life that wasn’t a real possibility. You can forgive, but it is damn difficult to forget. The way my mother handled those situations had an impact on me and my wife. I learned from my mother, and when our kids came along we tried our best to imitate her. Let me tell you, I had no idea how difficult a job that would prove to be. So many times I was tempted to grab one of my kids by the collar, shake them and say “I told you so,” or something to that effect. But I didn’t. I held my tongue.
There were many times we could have slipped into the “forgive” but not “forget” mode. During our most difficult years, when my son Tony was on drugs, that practice tested the limits of restraint.
The first time we caught him messing with drugs it was difficult. When he almost lost his arm due to a massive infection, it took all I had not to grab him and scream, “look what you did! Why didn’t you listen?”
I almost did that, but I realized that he knew what he did. It was his arm. Nobody knew better than him how much he screwed up.
Tony gave us plenty more opportunities to say “I told you so,” but we never did. Maybe we should have. Who’s to know? Who knows what to do in situations like that?
Years later we finally got Tony into a rehab center that seemed to be working. I went to visit him at about week 5 or 6, after he’d gotten partially back to his normal self. We took a walk around the property outside the facility, and he said, “You know, Dad, it meant a whole lot to me that you never brought up the past. You always said you trusted me.”
He didn’t say, even when I knew you didn’t, but I understood. I’d been there too.
I don’t have the means to describe how great those few words meant. If I did…if I could have somehow captured the euphoria, the feeling, the reward…that those words brought, I’d have bottled it and sold it. It was that good.
The Bottom Line
Those few words made all the years of restraint worth it. All those years of wondering if I was doing things right were validated at that moment.
Thanks, Mom. I hope you’re listening.
PS: The next time you forgive someone, don’t forget to fahgettaboutit.
Ciao, and thanks for listening,
Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of Murder Takes Time, and A Bullet For Carlos. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.”