The People You Love to Hate | TheUnion.com
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The People You Love to Hate

Alex Alexander

I have a good friend, with whom I have a strange relationship. We insult each other — friendly insults, but there are little fangs hidden in them.

My friend isn’t very patient, and he doesn’t suffer fools at all. When something bugs him, he’s more than willing to annoy us with his frustrations. He complains when the pins are placed too close to the edges of the greens, when the cruise ship towels are scratchy, and when the waitress can’t split up the check so that he can pay his fair share of the bill. He doesn’t let go of his complaints easily…seems to relish telling us about them ad nauseum when, really, who cares?

On the other hand, he treats his family and friends well, donates generously to local causes, and is a smart businessman with a great big heart.

Anyway, he’s a good guy with rough edges, and we have fun needling each other.

I had a boss once, Michael G., who was an extreme example of annoying and rewarding…I simultaneously loved and hated him, and he knew it.

Michael was a lousy boss but a fabulous mentor, the best I’ve had in all my sixty-plus years of adult life. He gave me second chances I didn’t deserve—should have fired me—but he valued something in me that I couldn’t see for myself. On the other hand, he was a royal pain in the tush. Left messes behind that he expected me to clean up. Took credit for my work. Acted most of the time like the Second Coming of the Messiah. What a jerk! But what a saint!

Now that I’m thinking about it, there have been many people in my life that I’ve loved to hate, and they’re the ones I remember most vividly. Here are a couple of examples:

There was Captain Peasley, my first company commander after I graduated from West Point. He told me that he’d rather have his sister working in a whorehouse (yes, he used that word) than have a West Pointer in his command. Yet he was probably the best of all the officers I ever served under.

There was private Stackhouse, the charismatic troublemaker, who had more leadership in his little finger than most of my officers and sergeants, but turned his leadership into insolence and insubordination. I don’t know what happened to him after Viet Nam; he’s either running a multi-million dollar business or died years ago in a back alley somewhere.

My own father was the first and most memorable of the people I love to hate.

Dad was a heavy drinker, what we now call a functional alcoholic. He never touched Mom in anger, but I remember some pretty scary non-violence. He was a spanker, so I occasionally got the old leather Army belt across my backside…but only when I deserved it. For a lot of years, into my early sixties, I thought he was ashamed of me because I was a mild-mannered kid, into reading and making model airplanes, while he was a genuine man’s man, war hero, bar fighter, and bigger-than-life personality.

I can’t say that I hated my father, but I had a lot of anger for him, and I’ve lived a lot of my life trying not to be like him.

Dad died in 1982. Age sixty-one. Two packs a day of Luckies for his whole adult life … so, lung cancer. Lately, more memories of my Dad have begun to surface. Different memories. Kinder memories.

I’m remembering summer afternoons, when I was little, playing catch with Dad in the backyard, and learning from him how to do handsprings and kip-ups. I remember him taking me along on his delivery truck, just to have me with him. I remember him letting me sit quietly in the kitchen, after bedtime, so I could listen to the adults talk—a cherished privilege for me.

When I got beat up by the neighborhood bully at age seven, Dad put me into Golden Gloves boxing, I thought because he was ashamed. Three years after that, I got into another fight with that same bully, and beat him soundly. Decades later, Mom told me that Dad watched the whole tussle from our kitchen window. He told her it was one of the proudest days of his life. He never told me that.

Dad paid money he didn’t have to get my teeth fixed so I could apply to West Point. West Point was his idea in the first place.

It’s only in recent years that I’ve come to realize that he was the only one who believed I could get into West Point. Nobody else had ever expressed that much faith in me.

It seems that, for those people we love to hate, the negative in our memories seems stronger than the positive. Yet, when we take the time to look more closely, our memories may reveal more love and respect than hate. I don’t know if that’s true for you, but it is for me. I easily remember annoyance and anger, but the essence of each relationship, in retrospect, turns out to be more about love and respect. That’s why these relationships are so memorable.

————

Recently I had a waking dream. In the dream it was a warm sunny day, polka-dotted with cumulus clouds drifting across the sky. One of those clouds sort of looked like my father’s face.

The feeling of the dream was peaceful, warm, comfortable… like the way I used to feel looking down at my sleeping children.

It was as if Dad himself was looking down at me…and he was smiling.

I stared at that cloud for a long time.


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