August 20, 2012 § 46 Comments

I have only hazy memories of my paternal grandfather.  Grey hair, angular face.   A serious man.  He sent his son to a military boarding school- to toughen the boy up, I imagine.

I have vivid memories of my father.  Cropped salt and pepper hair, dark eyes.  Whip smart, a great writer, socially graceful, desperately in love with my mother.

My father taught me many things- how to play tennis, how to catch and eat blue crabs, how to take care of dress shoes.  But amidst all the great and wonderful things, he taught me something else- something wrong and terrible.

In our house there was a right way and a wrong way to do everything- mow the grass, get a haircut, drive the car, park the car, pack the car- you name it.  I knew that because of my father’s appraising, critical, and relentless gaze.

When something wasn’t done the right way, I received that lacerating look, sometimes joined with a few short brutal words, but mostly just the look.  More than enough.

I learned the lesson.  For most of my life, I was ruthless in my self-appraisal.  Each moment, each choice, each thing.  Right way, wrong way.  Judging, judging, judging.

I turned it outward too.  Judging everyone and everything around me.  A ferocious critic of all I surveyed.

The worst thing, the most terrible thing, was to see the reflection of my critical gaze in the people I love the most- to understand how I had fed their self doubt all those years.   How I had harmed those I loved so deeply.

Father to son, father to son, on and on.  Our affliction.

Now I know.  No right way/wrong way, no judging, no look.  Just to love and to be.

I’m trying.

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§ 46 Responses to Affliction

  • Miss Rosen says:

    oo and here i was thinkinn the ancestral curse was contained in words but it is not. it is a look, which is a profound form of communication, the non-verbal message that goes straight to the brain and to the heart, with no means to mediate it because it is eye-to-eye. eeeaaaa.

    i’ma think this thru some more, the many many ways that the virus of negativity is transferred from one living being to the next ..

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Yes, the look.

      When a child- or a man who has yet to find his own self- needs the approval of his parent, all it takes is this kind of clear signal. The force of that look comes of course from within the child or man-child- which only makes the imprint of the look stronger.

      The Tao says that when we seek the approval of others, we become their prisoner. The look is the guard’s baton.

      Thanks for coming by, Miss Rosen.


      • gigiwanders says:

        hi tom and miss rosen
        your exchange brought to mind the difference in power and impact (maybe) between words and a look: a word or words bring with them certain boundaries regardless of how one chooses to construe them; a look, however, whatever the intention behind it, is boundary-less, in the sense that it is now a function of the receiver’s imagination and perception, which is boundary-less
        ps you may argue that words are boundary-less, too, and this may be of merit, but here i’m thinking in particular about words vis-a-vis looks

  • Know what you`re talking about, I guess one can just try to make it better.

  • This is such a moving, heartfelt post… There’s a wonderful Chinese proverb that says, “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”. It’s a journey, Tom, and it sounds like you are well along the road…..

  • […] the category of just so-very-good, is a post from Thomas Ross @ “Only Here Only Now”with his post titled: Affliction.“The worst thing, the most terrible thing, was to see the […]

    • Thomas Ross says:


      I don’t believe I can express my thanks adequately for your kind reblogging of this post of mine.

      Writers supporting other writers. It’s a glorious and wonderful thing. A beautiful part of this still new- to me- world of blog writing.

      Thank you so much.


  • chrisbkm says:

    Beautiful… wise and thoughtful post. It’s alway easier to learn from the things we can relate to. Familial patterns are so deep rooted and difficult to change at best. But we can, and we do. As we change, so does our influence. And it would seem to me, that regardless of age, our children are always embracing of any positive (and sincere) example we can offer. As always Tom, thanks for sharing your journey.

    On another note, last week I picked up David Hinton’s translation of Chuang Tzu The Inner Chapters. If you haven’t read it, check it out, I’m sure you will appreciate and enjoy it.


    • Thomas Ross says:


      So thoughtful of you to leave this message. I’ll definitely check out the Hinton translation.

      Yes, by the same process that my wrong way of being had a negative impact on those I loved, my new way of being can yield positive effects. I’m sure of that. But I am seeking this new way for my own sake, ultimately. It’s who I want to be- or perhaps better, it’s who I am.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and to leave this message for me.


  • phlyfitmama says:

    Tom – you write so beautifully and painstakingly about your family – I feel privileged to read along….thanks for sharing!

  • DIRNDL SKIRT says:

    I wonder if all self-doubt sprouts in a fertile bed of non-self-judgment (i.e. childhood/innocence), only to be “nurtured” by a hard gaze, corralled by a sharp comment. Breaking any kind of cycle requires acute self-awareness, and starting over. BEginning. Eloquent post, Tom.

  • julienmatei says:

    I like this a lot:

    “No right way/wrong way, no judging, no look. Just to love and to be”

  • dadirri7 says:

    bravo tom, if we could all just end those patterns then the next generation could start anew with love as their guide …. : ) so much pain to release from the ancestors but we can do it and stop it spreading forwards …just by talking about it as you do, and other ways such as energy work

    • Thomas Ross says:


      I agree. So much pain- but also what a great opportunity. It really is a matter of reclaiming one’s life- to forgive and to start again. That’s what I’m trying to do.



  • Archana says:

    It’s difficult to unlearn lessons like these. Especially when they come from our own parents.
    My parents expect perfection from me, too. And i am only 23 years of age. I try hard to break free from the norms sometimes, only to see how’d they react.

    All in all, it can leave some impact on the psyche of the one who is being constantly judged. The trick, i think or perhaps i use, is to just Be.

    • Thomas Ross says:


      Just to be. What could be simpler? What could be more elusive? But when we are there, right there, just being, everything slows down, calms down, peace, strength return naturally to you.

      Breaking free of the expectations of our parents is such a great challenge for so many of us. But until we do, how can we expect to live an authentic life?

      So good to hear from you.


  • Tom, I read your post and I see me. I couldn’t have said it as eloquently. Again, thank you for another outstanding post. Dave

  • gigiwanders says:

    hey tom, nice post!
    two things:
    (i) i have wondered whether one can truly forgive anyone else before one forgives oneself, hmmm

    (ii) also, i keep thinking about my father, as per yours above, did he love me? i mean, you can say, i know my father loved me, but short of being ever so slightly judgemental, ahem, if it’s not loving behavior then how can it stem from a place or being of love?
    i guess it boils down to, how can you love someone whilst treating them in unloving ways? are love and non-love in a defacto relationship?

    • Thomas Ross says:


      First thing- absolutely, you are right. Forgiveness has to start inside you. How can you truly forgive the other person if you are still carrying around that baggage of guilt and negativity?

      A father’s love? I guess I have no doubt at all that my father loved me. He did so many wonderful things with me and for me. The judging part, the critical gaze, was just part of his baggage. He meant me no harm, I’m sure. Anyhow, that’s what I believe and that’s what matters, right?

      Glad we connected and thanks for the always interesting and thoughtful replies.


  • This can be such a difficult line for parents to walk. On one hand you want to pass on what you know to help your kids on the journey of life. On the other, if pushed too far, they wonder if they will ever be good enough. I have and continue to struggle to find the right balance…

    • Thomas Ross says:


      Being a parent can feel overwhelming. The only way that I can navigate is to try- and I often fail but still- try to stay present, forgiving, and centered. To be strong in myself is, I believe, the best way to be there for them.

      Thanks for the read and thoughtful response.


  • jennlaurent (LiveThroughTheHeart) says:

    Beautiful honest post about something that I believe we all struggle with. Your bravery in putting this out there is admirable and is also a huge step in breaking that cycle.

    • Thomas Ross says:



      This post was tough to write and publish. But you have set an example for me with your own honest and often heart-wrenching posts. Your work has helped me to see how powerful the writing can be when it is honest and open.


  • Robyn Lee says:

    Very honest and beautiful expression and awareness Tom. Here we call it breaking down the “family sin” — but these are not true “sins” — just behavior patterns that have been passed down from generation to generation merely by modeling. The intent is usually good – and the damage unrecognized…. until someone like yourself does become aware and breaks the pattern. It’s a pretty amazing thing to consider how you and your children – may can be empowered to make this monumental change in your future generations. Both my husband and I have discussed this many times… and it’s a hard nut to crack, so whenever we recognize the unwanted pattern emerging ~ we say – it’s that ‘ghost’ again. Usually that takes the activation down… You are doing more that trying – you are on your way. I thank you for sharing your heart – always lessons to learn here~~ Much Love, R

    • Thomas Ross says:


      All I can do- all anyone can do- is to try and control their own choices and actions. I know that I cannot “break the cycle” by myself- but I can stop being a link in that chain.

      I appreciate so much your response. This is the second of two very tough posts for me- this and the “Gone But Not Gone” piece. It helps me so much to hear these kind and supportive words from you.

      Thank you.


      • Robyn Lee says:

        So true – this post was very close to home here relating to awareness my husband had when he was about 40. He also says can never truly”break the cycle” but the awareness is pretty huge. Know these 2 posts were tough ones for you. Very well expressed and helpful to so many others – thank you Tom! ~ R

  • Chris Mabon says:


    This is a beautiful and honest post. Sadly, we learn to judge ourselves and others from those who were also taught to judge. Time to break the cycle! With presence, acceptance of what is and willingness we can do it.


    • Thomas Ross says:


      It’s hard- and it’s easy- to break the cycle. Easy in the sense of simple- no judging, all forgiveness. Hard because that’s not how most of us, certainly me, have lived our lives. But as I say to myself, again and again, each moment is a fresh start.

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your warm words.


  • Anne says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for sharing this article. There is no right or wrong way; many of us have had to learn this over the years. You now seem to be in a good place, whilst recognizing past actions, you are moving forward with a more relaxed way of being. It’s hard to forgive yourself, but you will, and in turn the people you think you have hurt will also forgive. Be Strong Be Love Be Blessed

    • Thomas Ross says:


      Hardest thing, always, for me is to forgive myself. But I must truly believe that there is no wrong way, no judging here- not for my father, his father, or me.

      Each of us tries to make our way as best we can. We try. What more can anyone do?

      Thanks for leaving these kind thoughts.


  • Susan Cooper/ says:

    Your father indirectly taught you your most valuable life lesson of all. It’s one we should all heed. Like you, I work at it every day. There are days I do better then others.

    • Thomas Ross says:


      I agree. What I know and feel now is a product of all that came before. I love and forgive my father, absolutely. He struggled mightily. And- like you and me- some days better than others.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reading.


  • fgassette says:

    The key to life. Unconditional love and forgiveness. Thank you for sharing your story, it helps us all to face unpleasant things and actions we display that are harmful to others.


  • SprinklinThoughts says:

    How very true… I’m still struggling with this, internally and externally…
    Now it’s: “Did you do something? Looks good to me… Well done!”
    Or maybe: “Are you happy with the way it turned out? Well OK then!”
    Seems to work…
    But hey, I think I got the physical abuse thing beat – that stopped with me… never got passed on. One step at a time… 🙂

    • Thomas Ross says:


      I like those phrases. I also try now to say “Wow, you must be proud of what you did” instead of “I’m proud of what you did.” Keeping these phrases in our heads helps us, I think.

      Yes, one step at a time. That’s all we can do.

      Thank you for the read and for the thoughtful and sharing response.


  • By analysis you have found the key to forgiving – and opened your own heart.

    • Thomas Ross says:


      Thanks for the read and reply.

      I do feel that I am on a journey, living a more authentic life. When you take the time to read and to respond to the writing, that helps- a lot.


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