I finally watched The Glass Castle and burst into tears when Jeannette says to her dad, “Talking is not trying.” It struck so close to home that something primal in me rose up to meet this simple piece of dialogue. The whole exchange vibrated with truth.
My dad died sixteen years ago this spring. I was twenty-nine. It seems so long ago now, and in other ways it still feels fresh and recent. Like Jeannette’s father in The Glass Castle, mine was an alcoholic. He also struggled with mental illness in the form of bipolar disorder.
When dad died, he was alone, estranged from his ex-wife and his three adult children. I hung in there with him longer than my siblings, but our relationship was one hell of a wild roller coaster ride. I have no doubt that he was filled with regret at the time of his passing. He longed to be healthier and more stable, but simply couldn’t find the keys to that particular combination.
Viewing the ending of The Glass Castle, when Jeannette decides to go see her dying father, was a powerful catharsis moment for me. I recognized just how far I have come in these last sixteen years to forgive my dad and actually feel grateful for the lessons I learned through my difficult relationship with him.
I can see what he gave me, through his genes but also through his behaviour. And like Jeannette, I can agree that talking is not trying, even though I can see now that my dad did try. He just wasn’t able to succeed.
The point of the line in the movie is that talk is cheap. Action is what counts and what matters. Understanding this has changed me for the better, for I expect more than words now from those I love. It’s not enough to simply have good intentions. There has to be behaviour that matches the promises and the hype. Without the actions, all you are left with is lies. And a shit-ton of resentment.
I wish now that I could sit down with my dad over a cup of coffee and tell him that I have no more hard feelings. Forgiveness for me has been a long and exhausting road, but I can see that I have made significant progress. Talking is not trying, and when I was younger I needed much more than fancy words. I needed something that he simply was not capable of providing. And now it feels good to let that go.
But it’s still okay to admit that I needed a better dad. I think I’ll long for that until the day I die, but I’ve made peace with that desire. Now I know how to get what I need, from myself and from others who are healthy, to ensure that I can actually receive real love and care. I’ve found people whose actions do match up to their words. It’s not just talk anymore. The trying makes all the difference.