The Path to No Path

Love is Not Conditional

One day, when I was in my late teens, my father said to me: “I can't love you because I don't trust you”. I find it amazing that anybody could come out with such a statement, without expressing tremendous shame, embarrassment, or at least regret.

When my father said this to me, he said it with a straight face, as if he was merely clarifying some technical matter. Foolishly, I asked him what I could do about it, when of course it was a matter entirely for him. If I was in any way surprised at my father's statement, it was at the fact that he was making it, the very fact that he was actually sharing something of himself with me.

I was not surprised at the content of what he had said – I had known for many long and painful years that if I ever was to find any love (which I doubted), it would not be coming from him, or his wife, or his daughters, or his friends.

I also knew that this lack of love was not personal, for nobody anywhere seemed to love or be loved. On rare occasions somebody might make a gesture in this direction, but this would always be stamped on. This flight from love seemed to be built into the very fabric of the society I lived in, and I took this to be the norm, so that when I did meet a loving person many years later, I was stunned, bewildered, amazed – and delighted.

I have three theories about this total lack of love.

My first and earliest theory was that this was a remnant of Victorian values. I later modified this theory with the addition of the vicious Protestant Calvinistic/Lutheran belief that “I am a miserable, wicked person, but if I work hard enough, perhaps God will be so kind as to not condemn me too harshly. And, if I am wicked, others must be even more wicked, so the matter of loving them does not arise. 'Love thy neighbour as thyself.' – and hate my neighbour as I hate myself.”

My second theory is that this life-denying attitude is the result of unexpressed grief after the Second World War. What happened to all the pain, the anguish, the death of loved ones, the carnage of war? There was some mention of the destruction of property, but no mention of human suffering.

Was all this grief blotted out, pushed to one side, stamped on until it became a festering garbage heap in the hearts of the survivors? I heard, not long ago, of men who fought in that war now feeling just about able to tell their grandchildren something about what happened to them at that time. It seems that to share this with their children is just too threatening to them.

My third theory is that children are brought up to emulate the behaviour of their parents, and are not allowed to question their conditioning (not their own conditioning, and certainly not their parents'). These children suffer tremendous anguish, even existential rage, which they are not allowed to express.

So what happens? These children become deeply unhappy adults, and bring up their own children to be deeply unhappy. These parents may turn to their children, seeking to be loved by them, but the love of a young child is unconditional, and their parents feel threatened by it. Instead, they seek love on their own terms. Being unable to receive any love, they destroy their children.

The children of unloving parents feel unloved. Their parents, unable to love because they, too, were unloved as children, find all sorts of excuses why they cannot love their children: “I can't love you because I don't trust you”!

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If you should wish to contact me about anything you have read here, especially if you feel strongly for or against what you have read, or if you feel that something is missing, I offer you an opportunity to share.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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