My father died alone at the Lahti City hospital in Finland one night in 2009. He had been at the hospital for a couple of weeks due to pneumonia.
His body had already been moved to the “Chapel”, when I arrived from Denmark to the hospital ward where he had stayed. I asked a Russian nurse to take me to the doctor responsible for the patients of that ward to learn more about my father’s last days. The middle-aged female Doctor was also Russian. That made me imagine how my father might have died surrounded by Russian people and believing that the enemy had finally got him.
At the age of 17 my father had been enrolled as a volunteer in the Finnish army towards the end of the war in 1944. He had experienced killings and been sure he would be killed. Those were experiences he never got over. Like so many other Finnish veterans, the war influenced the rest of his life negatively. Only excessive drinking on weekends, during vacations and during his retirement years anesthetized the feelings of horror he said he felt. The last many years of his life he was diagnosed with some kind of dementia with paranoia, psychotic periods and some suicide attempts.
Such a father modeled perfectly the trajectory of an unhappy life: not trusting other people, not believing you can improve your life by changing your thinking while dwelling on the painful past. These characteristics became even stronger in his old age and he could hide behind blinds in the retirement home seeing Russian mafia spying on him in every black car in the parking lot.
How having this kind of a father influenced my siblings, I don’t know. In the traditional Finnish style we haven’t talked much about such things. What I know is how it affected me. At a rather early age I felt sorry for my father. I felt sorry that he was miserable when he drank. I listened him rambling about the war for hours without really listening. I felt sorry for that he could not control his anger and took it out on especially my mother and brothers. I also felt sorry that I had been born into that family, but I also realized my responsibility to make the best out of it.
What my siblings and I did, was to be active outside the home. I did athletics, was active in the church, read a lot, followed various television series, and had always some jobs where I could earn money to pay for my hobbies and travels. My siblings did the same. We all had different friends and separate lives outside of the family. Our parents were not much involved in our schooling either. They met up on the first Primary School day to enroll us and came to the High School graduation ceremony.
I do admire my parents: they were hard workers. They cared to provide us with shelter and enough food for us all, and they let us become responsible early on. But they were also modeling a kind of life I did not want to imitate. It was an important life lesson.
With this background I cannot identify with adults who complain that failures and misfortunes in their own lives are due to their parents who didn’t raise them correctly or didn’t love them enough. Some even use that as an excuse for not being good role models for their own children. That is heartbreaking in our modern societies where we can choose between so many different lifestyles.
2 thoughts on “Valuable lesson from my father”
Good Tarja! This is a positive way of dealing with your father’s attitude after what he lived during the war. Many people who could survive war were mentally destroyed and their way of life was terribly afflicted after war. My grandfather was a soldier in the trenches during the 1st world war. He was wounded by a shrapnel and decorated for heroism, which did not heal his wound faster. I remember that he never talked about this period of his life as if it were forbidden. But his life after war was plenty of wisdom, maybe because of the dreadful things he saw and the fear of being shot every second. People who had to go to war react differently. Those who blame their parents for what they have become or how they are should be ignored to remain polite.
This was good reading.
Thanks Patrick also for telling about your wise granddad. Ignoring other people’s unwise approaches to life is a skill I am not good at especially if children are involved. Earlier I was sometimes volunteering in a homeless shelter for women and children. It annoyed me enormously to see that poverty and social problems seemed to continue from generation to generation.