Dear Carolyn: Many years ago, my father began sending me letters filled with news articles that he thought I’d like. I do like them. And he’s funny and sweet in his notes on the articles. Often the envelopes have funny sayings, too.
I have an overall rocky relationship with my family – they have boundary, intimacy, emotional, physical and even some sexual and substance abuse issues (the whole deal), but my dad and I get along pretty well and he’s the least bad of them by far. And he’s changed somewhat for the better as he has gotten older.
For a while, I got rid of everything he sent after reading it. My parents are also hoarders, and I am trying hard to break the cycle. I’ve realized lately that I won’t have my parents forever and recently started to keep some envelopes and some of his writing on news articles.
How do I balance all of the past pain with present-day love and appreciation, and also future cleanliness? – Stuffed With Meaning
It’s not unthinkable for the funny and sweet version of your father to coexist with the “all of the above” slate of issues you ascribe to him and to your childhood in general.
How you deal with his contradictions is up to you – certainly plenty of people decide the rocky negates the sweet – but I’m not sure “balance” is necessary, or even possible. He is a deeply flawed person, check. He has his good points, check. You have your eyes open to both, check. Why not simply respond warmly to the good, and distance yourself as needed from the bad? Attempting this is not for everyone, but you seem to be remarkably temperate about the chaos buffet around you.
Physically it can also work to sort things out as you go. If you’re not hung up on the tactile, you can scan and save his notes electronically. But if the feel of newsprint and the swipe of the ink are part of what you value, then buy yourself a scrapbook. Mount the best of his missives, and release yourself from the rest.