In late December, my father flew me to Brazil. It had been a year and a half since I had last seen him, and it felt right to go back before graduation, which he and his wife probably won’t attend on account of work and the trouble of traveling with my 9-year-old sister.
What transpired took place a day or two after New Year’s. We were sitting by the pool, waiting for dinner: oven-baked fish, which my stepuncle caught and my father filleted. I was a little drunk and very sunburned, and my father very drunk, and something about that moment — either the angle of the sun catching the water, or the weight of the heat bearing down on my shoulders, or the cadence of my father’s words tripping over themselves — made me realize that for a long time I had been wrong.
Why I had resented my father doesn’t matter. Ours was a relationship stunted by circumstances both within and outside our control, and I won’t share them here because they are personal and also irrelevant. What matters is that I did — I resented my father quietly but intensely, in the way that children sometimes resent their parents.
What I’m describing is not exceptional. Antagonizing one’s mother and father is every child’s birthright, and I’ve exercised mine fully for as long as I can remember, mostly through long spells of passive-aggressiveness. Growing up in Texas, I sulked when my mom and stepdad corrected my Portuguese, when they refused to let me paint my bedroom orange, when they ordered the same things I did at restaurants, when they refused to let me quit middle school jazz band, when they told me to take out the trash, when they flew out of town for work and when they stayed at home too long during vacations. In short, I was a teenager.
But these were petty grievances, and leaving home made them moot. Lucky for me, new ones weren’t long in coming, and these were the ones that warranted resentment. Even as a freshman I had already begun the more or less universal exercise of learning to dislike myself. The questions I asked — Why was I not more sociable, fun, clever, happy? Why was I not less lame, shy, anxious, awkward? — I answered at home, over Thanksgivings and Christmases and spring breaks. In my parents I began to see echoes of my lame self — and it made sense! Of course: They had raised me! No wonder I had turned out that way!
I tend to think that you’re most bothered by others when they show the faults you see in yourself. Misdemeanors are mildly aggravating when perpetrated by others, but they can stir hurricanes in your soul if you know yourself to be guilty of the same crimes. And when it comes to your parents, matters are even worse: You see their faults in yourself, and you can’t help but connect the dots. You’re not the problem. They are.
Which brings me back to my father. You see, there is a reason I hadn’t gone to Brazil in a year and a half. I never resented my father dramatically, the sentiment was never vocalized, but it was always there, simmering. I wasn’t being coy when I spoke about the irrelevance of why: There were hundreds of reasons why, some very great, others very minor, but they were all rooted in the belief that his errors had made me who I was. At one point, for example, I resented him for not having taught me how to play soccer; that I couldn’t kick a ball straight was in my eyes the reason that I hadn’t made more friends in elementary school.
But it occurred to me while sitting by the pool in Brazil — with the sun catching the water and the heat gripping my shoulders and my father’s words tripping over themselves — that I had been wrong. Yes, I am my parents’ child, but blaming them for my every fault is neither fair nor accurate. They loved me and did their best, but they are human and neither perfect nor all-powerful. To think that I’m the inevitable consequence of their efforts, that my personality was preordained by my upbringing, forgets that part of growing up is assuming responsibility for who I am.
Teo Soares is a senior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .