No one is all good or all bad

November 17, 2014

My father and me

My father could be a difficult man. No, I’m not going to detail how and when or why–for this story it’s enough to say that he could be difficult and we had a pretty contentious relationship well into my adulthood.  I thought him a fearsome figure.


Our relationship has strengthened significantly since his death in 2008 and he’s been ever-present in my life since.

So there I was last week in my hometown of Rochester, NY staying with my oh-so-fabulous sister-in-love who happens to be friends with a woman who lived in the large and airy apartment above my father’s pediatric office. Years ago.

Since this woman, let’s call her Janet,  and her young son were my parents’ tenants, she knew them back in the day when they were both alive.   I’d met her at least once, many years ago.

Janet dropped by one morning during my visit and made a point to tell me the following story:

“Both your parents were very good to me,” she said, “but I’ll never forget one particular day when my son was very sick. Your father said ‘bring him right right down and I’ll take a look at him.’

That sounded like my father–he’d always see a sick kid. No appointment needed. Yes, those were the old days of medicine.

Janet continued:

“At the time we were really struggling. I didn’t have any health insurance, but I did bring my son down and your dad examined him.  ‘He’s got chicken pox,’ he told me.  I asked your father what I owed him and he looked up, shook his head and said, ‘Nothing. Go on upstairs and take care of your son.'”

I had to smile at her story, even as I brushed away tears.

THAT was my father.  Not too long ago I wrote about my father’s generosity HERE and how it sometimes broke his heart when people he had been good to failed to reciprocate when he asked something of them.  Janet’s anecdote is a perfect example of his kindness and generosity.

Not everyone saw it. Not everyone who saw it got it.  And too few who benefited from his generosity were anywhere near as thoughtful in return.

My view of my father changed drastically as I aged. For a very long time I couldn’t see his goodness. And then, over time, I began to.

It occurs to me that people are never all good or all bad. Including ourselves. That people we think are so difficult have redeeming qualities, even if we don’t see those traits.

I’m grateful I saw my father’s exceptional qualities, even though it took me a very long time. And I am especially grateful that he continues to show them to me, even after death.

I love him more than ever. And, for the first time, I see how much he loved me–and everyone else.

Who knew?

61 comments on “No one is all good or all bad
  1. Carol Graham says:

    What a reward to have finally understood your father’s love. You shared from your heart and I trust you will continue to remember the good memories as the others fade.

  2. Jackie says:

    I think when we can finally see our parents as “people”, rather than as our parents, we are able to see the whole picture. When we are able to do that all of the facets of their personalities emerge. For you, it means seeing the good side of someone with whom you had a “contentious” relationship. For others it sometimes means seeing the bad — some people are good parents, but not great at other things. Either way, the truth wins out. I think that in your case, having the opportunity to realize that your father had a “good” side (perhaps even a “better” side than the one that you saw on a daily basis) is the better way to go.

    By the way, I think that it’s wonderful (and pretty healthy) that you have continued to work on your relationship with your father even after his death. Most people would just shrug and figure “too late now”. Good for you.

  3. Laura Kennedy says:

    “No one is all good or all bad.” Takes such a long time to learn that, doesn’t it? And how much less confusing people are, once you get it.

  4. It’s funny how we start to understand our parents as we get older. I will very soon be the age my father was when he died. It is such a strange feeling for me!

  5. Karen says:

    You’re so right, Carol–for a long time, I could only see the negative side of both my parents, but as I’ve grown older and dug more into their past, it’s become clearer to me that they had some wonderful traits that were difficult for us to appreciate.

  6. Doree Weller says:

    It’s hard to allow others to be human. I’m glad your relationship with your father has strengthened since he died, and that you’re still giving yourself the opportunity to allow your relationship to build and grow.

  7. What a beautiful story! And, yes we do not see our parents through proper eyes as a child. It’s not until we’re older than we can appreciate all that our parents did for us, which gives me hope of my own children reaching this same sort of understanding and pray that it doesn’t take them as long as it did me. Thanks for stopping by this morning.

  8. Haralee says:

    I know my parents saw me as an adult person before I saw them that way. When we both were on the same page we had some really good times, good conversations and now good memories. I know I am lucky.

  9. Laura says:

    Clarity is always a gift and clarity about our parents and their shortcomings as parents can be life changing.

  10. Carolann says:

    Great story. I know some people who always look at the negative in any situation or person. I think it’s all about your perspective too. I also know some folks who no matter what, they can always find something good about someone or something. I think when it comes to our parents, we tend to always remember the good…at least I’d like to think so.

  11. I know exactly what you mean about your relationship with your father improving since he died – I have found the same thing happened since my father died in 2007. I have also grown much more patient with my mother as I get older.

  12. Diane says:

    I was one of those kids that grew up revering my father. I thought he was the smartest, funniest, kindest man ever. But with all that, it wasn’t until he turned 80 that we became friends. That he didn’t feel as though he had to parent me any longer. Dads. They give us so much. Why does it sometimes take years to recognize it?

  13. becca says:

    what a beautiful tribute to your dad. It’s true no one s all good or all bad

  14. This is such an important post because I think we do tend to characterize people as good or bad and the truth is we are all both. Recognizing that goes a long way toward understanding and compassion.

  15. Kimba says:

    Over time I’ve come to love and APPRECIATE my parents as the human beings they are, flaws and all. Once I accepted them – SURPRISE! – I found them to be much more accepting of me!

  16. Ines Roe says:

    Carol – You point out in such a touching way that as we get older we are able to see people in full dimension and are able no longer to do the “splitting” that we do – seeing people as all good or all bad. So much of life resides in the gray and it is hard to something see this. It is wonderful that your relationship with your dad continues to grew desptie his passing and that now the relaitonship is fully on your own terms. My relationship with my dad was complicated too. He died when I was 11 but even today I still continue to have him as an active part of my life that provides me with inspiration.

  17. What a sweet and loving post. You are so right about people not being one way or the other. There’s many parts in all of us, and men many times can’t show all of their sides. How lovely to meet “Janet” at that point in your life, Carol!

  18. Naila Moon says:

    What a beautiful story. It hit me at the heart.

  19. Sheryl says:

    Carol, I say you are so fortunate to have found the goodness in your father after his death. Some people are never able to welcome that into their lives, and have bitter memories that plague them.

  20. Great post. And I agree, in fact blanket statements of any kind often do more harm than good. Interestingly enough that very thought rolled through my wad while I responded to your yesterday’s post.
    So glad you found such love for your father, that it continues is such a gift.

  21. Carol what a lovely post and what a great thing to hear about your dad. As I get older I too have learned to see things in more shades of grey. Thank you!

  22. Helena says:

    My father was a good man but he was quite a perfectionist. To this day, I have a strong tendency to second guess myself at every turn. I miss him, nonetheless.

  23. Hey Carol — I love this story. What I love the most is the grace and forgiveness you show him. And it’s amazing how relationships can continue to evolve even after one of the people is deceased. Thanks for this.

  24. Lana says:

    My father is still alive, but we have always had a difficult relationship that has gotten only marginally better with age (his and mine). Thank you for reminding me that there is good there, and I need to work harder at finding it while he’s still here.

  25. Such a true statement about people. So wonderful that you can continue to discover good things and memories about your dad.

  26. XmasDolly says:

    I was going to tell you that our linky today is for music and theme is always in my side-bar, but you know what I’m going to leave your name because I wouldn’t have missed this story for the world. Thanks for sharing a bit of your memories, your life.

  27. Ruth Curran says:

    The insane parallels continue…. Maybe father’s are like many artists – we see them more clearly and appreciate their essence even more when they are no longer with us….

  28. I was really bugged to find out how many cliches were true when my mom died. I never knew how much I loved her until she died. I wish I’d have let some things go. Hard to see our parents as real people. Great post.

  29. Nice tribute to your dad. Isn’t it amazing how much “wiser” we get when we’re older–and we FINALLY begin to understand who are parents really were? And how we are so much more accepting?

  30. You are blessed with the ability to make lemonade out of lemons. I think maybe you had to grow yourself to understand the struggles that made the man.

  31. How awesome that Janet was there at that moment to give you that incite. Coincidence? I think not. Angels are everywhere IMO. So glad you found the good.

  32. What a beautiful story, Carol! Thank you so much for sharing! Now excuse me, I need to go get something out of my eye… 🙂

  33. bodynsoil says:

    I love this story and how you’ve been able to rekindle your relationship with your father, even after he has passed. I like to pay it forward and be kind to those in need when I can. I certainly hope that those who your father helped have done the same.

  34. So wonderful that you’ve come to terms with your father’s legacy. My father never had the capacity to be genuine to anyone, let alone generous, and I’ve come to terms with that.

  35. Lisa Froman says:

    My father is 82 and he has been mostly absent from my life (and my siblings)for decades. But in the last few years I see him once or twice a year and he emails me regularly…passing on political jokes or commentaries (which I don’t like or endorse). But I see it as him reaching out. Lately he has been writing little stories recounting his childhood and earlier years. It’s been interesting….and somewhat bittersweet. It makes me realize how little I knew him….and it makes me sad because I feel there is a reason he is recounting and writing down his history. I respond encouraging….but he has no idea how sad it makes me.

  36. Thanks for sharing about your father.
    Sometimes it takes time for us to see the legacy

  37. Roz Warren says:

    Thought provoking. Sounds like our dads were pretty similar.

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