It is an old story. There are many different versions in many different cultures. One version goes like this:
There is a family, mother, father and son. The mother is loving and caring while the father is angry and abusive. As the son grows older he comes to hate the dynamic in his family where his father is overbearing and monstrous and demeans and treats his mother (as well as the boy himself) terribly. He grows closer to his mother, loving her dearly and wishing that she could be spared this miserable life. He grows to hate his father. As soon as he is of age he moves out, unable to stand his father’s abuse any longer. From then on he tries to have as little contact with his home as possible. He still keeps in touch with his mother and wishes desperately she would leave her husband. In secret he hopes that his father’s anger will get the better of him and the world will be a better, more peaceful place if he would just pass away.
Eventually the mother passes away. At the funeral the man sees his father, sees his mother in the casket, and even though he loved his mother so dearly he doesn’t shed a single tear over her. He eyes don’t follow his mother’s casket being lowered into the ground, but are instead stuck glaring at the father. More years pass and the man has no contact whatsoever with his father. The hate for him grows even more fiercely and the rage that he who was so abusive got to outlive she who was such an angel gnaws at him.
One day the man receives word that his father has passed away. While he had professed such open love for his mother he did not break down, did not cry over her, but after learning of his father’s demise, he breaks down. He weeps for days and is unable to function. At the lonely funeral he cries like a helpless child, sobbing uncontrollably.
Why? Why did this man cry so much over his father, but not for his mother? Shouldn’t he have shrugged off his father’s death like something expected and no big loss, but then felt his mother’s passing as if the world had split in two and nothing made sense?
The most simplistic answer is guilt. The death of his father made him realize how foolish he or they had been. He wished there had been more time, he wished so many things could have been different. This is hardly the truth of this story though, and definitely not why in some psychoanalytical traditions it is meant to reveal an important part of the human condition.
The story is a reminder or a cautionary tale of something deeper. It is meant to reveal the way that despite what we might hope from life or see in most of the media (love is all you need, love conquers all, etc.) we consume, hate is often more powerful than love, especially as something that gives us meaning in life and gives us a sense of who we are.
The attachments that we label “love” are generally those that we can admit to openly, to ourselves and others. You can represent them and not feel ashamed that this feeling defines you as having or wanting a particular relationship to a person. But the attachments that we might refer to as “hate” are not as camera ready, they tend not to be as ideal for public discussion. The feelings born of quiet or raving hatred, that often lead to silent obsession will end up defining you in ways you don’t want to admit or cannot understand. As a result when the truth emerges, when you learn how incredibly attached you are to this person you loathe, it can shake the foundations of everything you take for granted.
It is not that the man did not really love his mother, but more so that the hate for his father gave him most of his identity, even coming to determine his relationship to his own mother. All his life, it was the looming, menacing shadow of his father above him that affected everything he felt and saw. Even if he could verbalize that he could live without his father but not live without his mother, this was a façade. It was truly the father that he needed to give him a place in the world. Without that guiding hatred there he had no equilibrium. The universe had been colored with his seething, teeth-gnashing anger for so long, that when the object that pumped violent life into that color disappeared, he literally could not recognize himself any longer.
Chamorro culture has its own variations on this theme, and its own warnings to choose love over hate. The most famous of this is primarily for women. They say that if you detest someone too much while you are pregnant, you will end up cursing yourself and as a result your child will look like whoever is the object of your hatred. While doing oral history research I found plenty of Chamorros who felt like they looked “different” than the rest of their siblings, and so there were always conversations about who Nana must have hated in the family or in the village to give so and so their unique look.
What is so funny about this Chamorro version though is that the “hate” is something that is meant to mask a love or more appropriately a lust. As people sometimes profess a dislike for someone as a means of hiding the fact that they truly desire them, the reason the children may look like them as less to do with karma, and more to do with kichi kichi or more appropriately kichi'guan. In order to hide a secret affection or a secret relationship Chamorros may have overcompensated in expressing hatred to try and distract from their true feelings.
Apart from this little social drama sidenote, the belief is meant to be another cautionary tale, meant to remind you that both love and hate will affect us, but that hate will do it in ways we do not expect and often cannot understand.
A recent saying I heard in Chamorro tied to this is "Un foyung i bastadon pa'go, mit mas agupa'. Kao ma'ok i trompon-mu?" There are lots of versions of this, but it boils down to whether or not you have enough hate, stamina or rage to take down all the idiots and bastards in the world, because if you don't, then you probably shouldn't get too upset about one. So many Chamorro sayings seem tied to getting people to calm down, mind their own business and ultimately accept that they cannot change much in life. There is a beauty to this passivity, a quiet, zen-like harmony, but it can also be frustrating.