I was standing in the men's room line during intermission at a theater in Union Square last week when I had this flashback to a terrible fight I had with my father when I a young man.
It happened nearly 40 years ago and yet it came popping back into my head like a poison mushroom.
I was getting ready for school one morning when my father came walking in the bathroom without knocking—something he did quite often.
I got angry—something I do quite often--we both started yelling at each other and then it escalated to a point where he was lunging at me while I started smashing karate chop blows to his face. It was horrible.
My mother was right in the middle of this hideous confrontation, as she usually was, the poor woman, and I would give anything to undo it. But failing in that, at least I’d like to stop replaying the goddamn thing.
My sister, auntie and myself had gone to see the Irish Repertory Theater’s production of Da by Hugh Leonard, which I’m sure helped resurrect this particular nightmare.
The play tells the story of an Irish writer who is visited by the ghost of his recently-deceased adoptive father.
My sister and I both thought the hero’s father was a bit of lightweight when compared with our experiences, but in view of the play’s subject matter I guess it’s not surprising that I had a ghostly experience of my own.
There was a time when I would’ve grabbed hold of this foul recollection, held it close to my heart, and either relived the rage or withered in shame at the memory of my past deeds. Either way I would have done a real number on myself.
But this time I did something quite different. As soon as that nasty encounter came roaring toward me like a runaway train, I took a mental step away from it and silently announced the incredibly obvious.
“That’s a bad memory,” I told myself.
Yes, I know, instead of Da, this sounds more like Duh! It’s about as profound as saying water is wet.
But I’ve never made an acknowledgment like this before. I always blindly accepted the painful past until it polluted my present. This was just a bad memory—and nothing more. Why relive it?
It wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening anywhere except in my head. By actually naming this demon I was able to rob it of its power over me.
Isn’t it amazing what great ideas you get while waiting to go to the can?
My subconscious mind has an incredible ability to dredge up the ugliest memory at the most inappropriate times, but if I can just keep calling them out, naming these mental mirages for what they really are, I think I’ll be a much happier fellow.
I’ve embarked on yet another self-help effort that I call “The Dad Project,” where I rewire my memories of my father.
Whenever I recall something unpleasant about my dad, I deliberately search through my brain for a pleasant memory of my father and play that one in my head. It’s a conscious effort to change the way I think.
I know I did have good times with my father. I just have to work a little harder at recalling them. It's like unscrewing a faulty light bulb from its socket and replacing it with a good one.
If I keep this up, I’ll be shining brighter than a theater marquee on opening night.