The Secrets We Keep

I have written before about secrets and how they play out in therapy. Yesterday I read a excerpt of a memoir that set me to thinking about another aspect of secrets. This paragraph, excerpted from A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by Gideon Lewis-Kraus and published in Salon, even led me to order the book:

It is nothing special that my dad had a life separate from me, or that he kept secrets; this is something all parents do — straight ones, scrupulous ones — and it’s what we grapple with, to varying degrees of success, our whole lives. What’s unusual about my relationship to my dad’s life is not that there were things about it I didn’t know because he was gay. It’s that I was able to indulge the fantasy that he kept secrets only because he was gay, that if he had been able to be openly gay he would’ve shared his entire life with me and I always would have known exactly where I stood. At a certain point other people have to understand that parents keep secrets, that parents close parts of themselves off to their children, because that is what parents do.


I have often thought about the opacity of parents. Years ago, before my children were born, I began keeping a journal because I hoped thereby to be able to leave something to my kids that would offer them a glimpse of me, as a person, as someone who was more than their mother. The irony of course is that now I am not at all certain I want them to see my journals at all, but that is a post for another day. It is difficult for children to see their parents as three dimensional people, people who had lives, desires, ambitions, disappointments, dreams before and during their time as parents. It is hard to see the person who lives inside Mom or Dad. And many, maybe most children do not want to know their parents beyond their experience of them as parents.

I am working on a project that may become a book and which has a memoirish component. So I face this issue of the parental veil of secrecy as I write it. How much do I reveal? If I didn't have children, this would not be an issue for me. But the fact that there are children in the equation changes things as I cannot write about my life and not also involve them and their father. 

Lewis-Kraus goes on:

This longing for his decisiveness helped explain my preoccupation with the history of his sexuality. There are very few examples in modern adult life of the successful instantaneous transformation, the switch that is flicked to make everything new — the fantasy of the transformative arrival in Santiago — but the example of coming out is one of them. Which I think is why I’d for so long kept such careful tabs on what story he was telling whom when: I wanted to nail down the moment of his coming out, with the hope that if I could pinpoint that transformation I could . . . I don’t know what I could do, I would just feel better, would be able to look to him as a model of resolve. I wanted to identify the moment that he decided to live for himself despite the costs involved. I wanted to know where he stood...



What I was finally coming to understand here was that there was no such moment, no grand gesture of repudiation, no final grace, no scene of coming through the Wall, nothing you can do now that makes all future cost considerations fall away, no way to know what you might regret. There was just a long muddle in which he’d had terribly conflicting desires and had been doing his best to resolve them. I still do not believe he’s ever reckoned with the costs — or perhaps he’s reckoned with the costs he paid, but not the costs borne by others. But in Uman I accepted, in a way that felt new, that he had been in a crisis, and that he had also been doing what he wanted...


I’d drawn exactly the wrong lesson from his surfeit of contradictory stories. I thought it was just his standard obfuscation. But it was just his ongoing and incomplete attempt to tell a story about his life that made everything make sense.




So maybe it comes down to that. That in the end perhaps all we can do is rely on the emotional capital of a lifetime of loving and caring and supporting our kids to trust that they will come to see us as Lewis-Kraus does, with compassion and understanding. We as secret bearers must be mindful of how we reveal them and to whom we reveal them, because we can cause injury with them. But in the end,  I come back to Jung's thoughts, all taken from Vol. 16, pp.55-60:

Anything concealed is a secret. The possession of secrets acts like a psychic poison that alienates their possessor from the community.

All personal secrets ... have the effect of sin or guilt, whether or not they are, from the standpoint of popular morality, wrongful secrets.

...if this rediscovery of my wholeness remains private, it will only restore the earlier conditions from which the neurosis, i.e. the split off complex,  sprang.

All of us are somehow divided by our secrets but instead of  seeking to cross the gulf on the firm bridge of confession, we choose the treacherous makeshift of opinion and illusion.


© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.