Son, You’re a Better Man Than I

Trust does not and cannot exist in the absence of authenticity.  A pseudo-trust may exist temporarily due to circumstances of expediency.  In the long run, however, this pseudo-trust is worn down and no amount of bribery, cajoling or rewarding can sustain it.

Robert Preston Caldwell, Jr. 10/27/09.

It was late afternoon near Christmas, 1987, and the last sunlight filtered through the gauzy curtains of Dad’s bedroom.  For 2 or 3 weeks he’d been silent, unable to speak, semi-conscious at best, on his way out.  He was his authentic, essential self, worn down by months of grave illness.

As had become my habit I was sitting quietly in his room at home, just being there with him, contemplating our life together and preparing for the day, soon, when he’d no longer be with us.  When I arose to leave and go home to my family I stopped by the edge of the bed and kissed him on his unshaved cheek.  “Dad, you’re a wonderful man,” I said softly to him.  Suddenly, he turned his head toward me, opened his eyes, looked straight at me and said, “Son, you’re a better man than I.”

I would not have been more shocked if he’d jumped out of the bed!  It seemed impossible that he had spoken at all, especially in a strong voice.  Just moments before he’d seemed to have already crossed over to death, but here he was, for that brief moment, looking at me closely and giving me the blessing all men ultimately seek, affirmation from their father.  In fact, in a conversation with some friends a few years later I told this story and one of the men looked at me and said, “If you had that kind of relationship with your father, you’re miles ahead of most men.”

This was part of the payoff of the work we did together, both with Dad and my old mentor, Arno.  What higher praise could a son receive, or any child for that matter, than to be held in high esteem by a parent?  Without it we wander through life seeking this affirmation from others who can never really bestow it on us.  We try all types of substitutes without success.  The root of mid-life spiritual crisis is, in part, this search for the blessing of being recognized as worthy by those who have meant the most to us.



About MentorBoom

It's been the blessing of my life to receive the teaching and friendship of some extraordinary people. I want that wisdom to outlive me by sharing it with others. MentorBoom, is intended to do that and to help us all find ways to live more satisfying and fulfilling lives.
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10 Responses to Son, You’re a Better Man Than I

  1. Beautiful. Really beautiful!

  2. Spoon Feast says:

    It is not only men who seek approval from their fathers, women spend a lot of time in that endeavor too. Then there are the mothers too, but that’s another story.

  3. John Clark says:

    What an extraordinary experience with your father, Robert.

    I’m interested in the notion of affirmation you present. A commenter used the term ‘approval,’ although you may not include that. Is the origin of this need for affirmation more genetic than environmental? I’m not sure, maybe a combination.

    I lean more to the conditions of living to explain it. The need in each case would fall on a spectrum ranging from very powerful to nonexistent. For example, a demanding parent—not necessarily abusive—may set up challenges for the young child in order to produce the behavior he/she wants. The depended behavior imprinted in the personality of the child will continue through adult life. But, as I’ve noted, I’m not certain about this.

    Consequently, I favor instead the term ‘acceptance.’ Acceptance by both parent and son/daughter may occur without approval of each other. The differences may be too great to produce approval. A father through his core moral beliefs may not approve of his daughter’s lesbian life, but he could acknowledge the acceptance of her as his blood kin.

    The important point I received from your post, however, is the personal work you did to achieve the special connection with your father. Thanks for sharing.

    • mentorboom says:

      John, thanks for your thoughtful comments. Approval is a nice thing to have, but I don’t have to have that. Acceptance is good as well but implies a certain shrugging off the inevitable. Affirmation, for me, is the proper word because Dad, in his last days affirmed for me that I was on the right track with my life. So in this case affirmation was more a loving guidance, a continuation of what I’d had from him by working so closely with him for all those years. The difference that he was no longer trying to find fault, he just stated his unfiltered feelings about me.

  4. mentorboom says:

    John, a little more. Affirmation, acceptance, approval, 3 “a” words that could be interchangeable but could also be very different. When things are going well in our relationships all 3 can exist, when they’re going poorly, none can exist. The work with Dad was extraordinary and it’s why, in part, I do the work I do. I saw that others in my situation were faced with very difficult circumstances, albeit sometimes cloaked in relative luxury and privilege. Emotional pain is emotional pain whatever the circumstances. Emotional elation is a cherished moment.

    Acceptance does, for me, connote more of a mutual toleration, but that evening with Dad, I felt fully embraced.

    • John Clark says:

      In the case, Robert, with you and your father I totally agree that affirmation is the authentic description and I again say “Way to go!” Considering other cases, ‘acceptance’ may be a welcome breakthrough. Thanks for your thoughts. See ya ’round town.

      • mentorboom says:

        John, thanks for the kind words. It’s so helpful to have worked with my father given the work I do now. See you, soon, and tell Ben hello. He can see some of my current music posted on FB with some of my old friends.

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