When a fake conflict hides the real conflict

My father didn’t talk to his sister for 30 years all because of football.

There was no love lost between my dad and his sister. Dad was one eyed Norwood supporter and his older sister was a die-hard Port supporter. My aunt thought the rivalry was funny; my Dad thought it was treacherous.

My aunt was married to a terrible Port supporter. My dad despised him. My uncle represented all that was wrong with the world. He was a big beer drinker, who was into cars and fishing. Ugh!

My dad was much more sophisticated. He was a big red wine drinking man who was into football, cricket and arguing loudly about politics.

On one auspicious late September day sometime in the 70s my uncle rang my dad to gloat about Port beating Norwood in the grand final that had been played the day before. My dad lost his shit; abused my uncle and never spoke to him again. I think the only conversations my dad had with his sister after that day were when she attended my wedding and children’s baptisms.

I maintained a close relationship with my aunt despite her being a Port supporter.

My dad said he could never forgive my uncle for the way he spoke to him about THAT grand final. He was offended and insulted and that was that.

In reality the dispute about the football was a faux dispute, a nothing, nonsense. It was a cover for a much deeper problem. My dad had for a long time referred to my aunt as “black cloud”. My dad had a number of conspiracy theories swirling around in his head about how his sister manipulated their parents, that she treated him badly when he was a child, that she was the favoured bossy big sister. He was jealous of the relationship his sister had with their father. He accused her of being petty, small minded and ignorant.

It was an extraordinary situation because my father was a priest and a psychotherapist. He had a greater awareness of how people tick than most people I know. He was scholarly and intellectual in his own way; but at the same time he was rough around the edges having grown up on a sheep station and having done most of his schooling by school of the air. But dad got people; he knew that people regularly hide their true selves. He could read peoples’ energy and moods and pin point what was really going on as soon as a person walked into a room. He knew better.

And yet he couldn’t see that he was playing the victim in this ridiculous argument about football and lack of respect.

And sadly about 30 years later my aunt, completely disabled with dementia, eventually died. It was too late. My dad and my aunt never had that difficult conversation. They never spoke their own truths. They both died at war with each other…all because Port beat Norwood in a grand final some time in the 70s.

My sadness about this situation was profound. I loved them both. Due to the appalling relationship between my dad and my aunt – we were not invited to my aunt’s funeral. About three months later we held a memorial service for her and my dad was there – finally. It was incredibly sad.

We can hide our real pain behind fake disputes. We sometimes re-invent history. We catastrophise a situation and blow it out of all proportion because it serves another purpose. We don’t have to do that – it takes courage to have difficult conversations. It is sometimes hard to work out what is the real issue; what is the underlying problem. But if we value ourselves and other people, it is worth the pain. On the other side of that pain is often relief, joy and healing.

PS: I now support both Norwood and Port Adelaide Football Club (but I am not a Port Magpies supporter!)

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