Breaking The Cycle


Author Jack Heath

A recent survey in Germany found that one of the greatest regrets of the present generation of Germans was that their forebears had not spoken of the pain they had gone through during the time of World War II. If we are to leave a positive legacy for those who come after us we must be open to the pain within our own lives and move through it to a better place.
The other day I was talking with a friend about our respective fathers. When Craig talked about his father, Frank, his jaw would immediately clench and his chin push out. Craig has recently become aware of the enormous anger he carries – something his friends have known for a long time! The anger seems to boil up all of a sudden, sometimes for no apparent reason, but always whenever his father is mentioned.

We talked on a bit and Craig mentioned how, when he was a young boy his father would explode for the most arbitrary of reasons. Craig would do something entirely inconsequential and end up with a belting – bruised and bewildered. Riding horses was for some reason a no-no and after Craig had done the forbidden in what became a ritual he would come inside the house, past his mother, "out to the laundry", "pull down your pants and bend over" followed by a strapping from his father’s belt.

Craig spoke of how his father had for the past few months been asking him to come home and sort things out. A few months back Craig was visiting Frank when his father blurted out that he never knew how he could forgive himself for walking out on Craig. At the time, a 16 year old Craig came home to a note on the kitchen table telling him his father had left. Of course, Frank was asking for Craig’s forgiveness but at the time Craig could only think of all the pain that had been caused, said he didn’t want to talk about it and stormed out of the house. In that action, he reflected back to his father the pain his father had caused when he walked out on Craig.

We got talking a bit more and it turned out that Craig’s father had spent four years fighting in Vietnam. Craig didn’t know how many people his father had killed, nor in fact did his father who had "strafed" many unseen victims, but he did know he had killed many. In the midst of all this Craig’s father had sought refuge in the arms of young a Vietnamese woman – something Craig’s father had only revealed recently. When Frank told him about it, Craig again stormed out of the house in a rage.

It also emerged that when Frank was six years old – the day his mother died – he was taken away as a ward of the state. Craig himself was six years old when Frank went away to fight in the Vietnam war. And when Frank returned to Australia things were difficult with his wife and he left her, with Craig eventually going to live with him.

As we talked on, we started coming to the conclusion that forgiveness was a key part to healing the wounds, that often fathers are looking for forgiveness from their sons to help break the cycle of pain and anger. But is also became clear that this can only begin to occur once we open ourselves up to the pain. It’s not easy, but it is necessary if we are to be healed.

It also seemed to us that when we fail to heal our own wounds their associated emotions are passed down the line. This is why it’s so important that we sort out our own stuff because, if we don’t, we pass it on to future generations.

Sorting the stuff out can be enormously difficult and painful – and often an incremental process – but ultimately it is a less difficult and less painful path that trying to keep the lid on things. In the greater scheme of things, it’s easier to walk in the light than the darkness – it’s just that so many of us are not used to it and, fearful of change, we shy away from the unfamiliar.

If we don’t deal with the stuff ourselves then we leave it to future generations to deal with – not a very noble legacy. And it then takes them much searching to come to understand where all this sadness and anger they are carrying has come from. In short, if we fail to open ourselves to the pain in our own lives then, almost inevitably that pain is passed to our children and their children until the wound it comes from is eventually healed.

Of course, we can always work on our stuff on our own – and sometimes that’s the right way to go – but if we do have children or if our parents are still around often we can work with them to secure an intergenerational healing that will warm the hearts of generations to come.


If you want to read more in this area, you might want to look at Steve Biddulph’s article "The Big Talk With Dad" which is also featured in our Manzine section. And if at the end of it all there are some fond memories you have of your father, you might want to post them in our section "Good Things Dad Did" which you can get to from our home page.

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