When My Father Nags

Once upon a time, I wrote a story called, “When My Father Nags, Chee!” “Chee” is an Hawaiianization of “Jeez,” or, as Molly Ivins used to say, “Sheez.” “Chee” was the word I heard with an ear raised in Hawaii.

My story was autobiographical fiction, about a boy named Jiro who is almost sixteen years old and struggling to separate himself from his parents.

Jiro is the eldest of several children. He has taken a job at a grocery store, over his father objections. His father had other plans for Jiro, a job as a day laborer with the company for which he works as a foreman.

I couldn’t finish writing this story, persistent as I was in revising, until I entered other phases of my life. I had begun the story when I was an undergraduate, when conflicts with my father were still fresh in my heart. My relationship with my father was never easy, and it was good to get those hurts and pains out on paper. But there was some ingredient, some perspective missing in the writing.

Time passed since those early drafts, and I had gotten married and had children of my own. It was then that I realized the irony in the story of Jiro and his father. I had been writing about a father who nags his son: “What do you do all day long? What are you hanging around with those losers for? What kind of job is that? Why don’t you get a real job? When are going to be a man?”

It wasn’t until I became a father, when I had my own children, that I realized how much I must have nagged my father: I listened to my own children–I had four of them–and it hit me like thunder one day.

I don’t remember what they wanted–ice cream, going to a movie or the zoo–but I remember thinking, “But I am the father…I have so much to do, to keep control of…. Why are they nagging, nagging, nagging?…why won’t they stop?”

The bulb went on with a surge of electricity, then out–blewie!

I must have nagged my father to death! “Why do you have to work all the time? Why do you have to go off to those meetings? Those men, and your work, do you love them more than you love me? Can’t you talk? Can’t you tell me what’s going on in you? Is this what it means to be a real father, so distant, remote? When are you going to put your arms around me again, like you used to, and throw a ball with me?”

And I began revising my story about Jiro and his father, realizing that I was still nagging, nagging, nagging my father! And I was nagging myself! I didn’t accept myself for who I was, who I claimed to be, because I didn’t accept my father for who he was! I wanted to make him over into the image of my need!

How do we learn to see our fathers as real persons and not as fantasies? Can we? I believe we can. I believe that Ishmael, though he and his mother Hagar were sent into the wilderness by his father Abraham, can learn to see his father as a model of obedience and faithfulness to God. Then he can see his own relationship with God better.

I know that I am my father’s son, but I am not my father. My father is other than I am, and that’s all right. I know he loves me, but he is not like me. He won’t say “I love you” in so many words. I am the type of man who will say, “I love you.” I am one who will say, “I love you” and not one who will say, “I love you, man,” and want your Bud Light.

If we want to heal our fathers and heal ourselves, we have a wonderful model for doing this in the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer begins, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name….” To hallow means to make holy or whole. This is what we pray for. We want God’s name to be made whole; we want God’s name to be healed. Too often we restrict God’s name to our own narrow ways. God is ever more than our narrow ways.

In the same way we may want to pray for the wholeness of others, including our fathers and including ourselves. May we all be freed from our own narrow, nagging ways! Shalom–wholeness and well-being to you.