In Brief—Bay remembers his parents and the influences they had on him from childhood and adulthood.
Does the Apple Fall Far from the Tree?—
For good or for ill, our parents not only endow us with their genes but provide the environment that helps shape us. Nature and nurture in concert.
One question we have to ask ourselves is whether our parents set the pattern we follow or if each of us chooses his/her own path. In examining myself, I think it’s both, but one or the other will dominate. In my case, the person I have become is primarily determined by all the influences that have touched me since the time I was a kid. Once I tasted independence, the influences of my parents receded…but they’re still in there.
Being sent to a distant boarding school as a child allowed me to flex my self-reliance muscles, to depend on myself more often than not. It was a matter of survival. Although being sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico, was a life or death decision, I suspect it was also a convenience to my parents, particularly Mother.
Dad was a disappointment to his successful father who refused to employ him. Dad was often away scratching to make a living on his own. He became a lovable alcoholic who charmed the ladies. Mother was born to wealth and was farmed out to a strict Catholic boarding school by her rigid, controlling mother. She was meaner than a cornered badger and unfortunately contributed to Dad’s alcohol problem. That said, it was only natural that I would be sent to a Catholic boarding school in Santa Fe where her mother summered every year. I have always assumed that my grandmother suggested it.
This gives you some background that will add meaning to the incidents I will relate.
As a little child, Dad was disappointed that I didn’t want to rough-house with him. To him, that may have been taken as a rejection. I’m not qualified to psychoanalyze him, but I sense an echo of his father.
When bathing me as a toddler, Mother laughed at the sight of me. Rather than interpreting that as parental joy at her little boy, I have chosen to feel it was denigrating me. Is this too harsh or something else?
I’ve already related how Dad bought a toboggan for my sister and me, but Mother angrily insisted he return it. Maybe it was an economic thing, but I clearly recall that Dad was visibly deflated. Could he have refused?
The Vanishing Family Dogs—
When I returned from Santa Fe, my gentle dog Bouncer was missing. Before I left, he was my constant companion. When I asked, Mother evasively replied that he barked at the milkman and was mean. She conveniently forgot that just before I left, the milkman hit Bouncer with a metal rod. She simply wanted an excuse to get rid of him.
Poopsie was a cute and active little mutt. One evening at a party, Dad and Mother laughingly poured booze into his bowl which Poopsie lapped up. Incensed, I wrote a note and ran away. After sitting through the film twice, I decided that running away was not such a good idea and returned home. Angry, Mother wanted to punish me, but Dad defended me. No punishment for me, but Mother decided Poopsie must go.
While I was in the Army, Mother bought two elegant Afghan Hounds. Beautiful dogs, but Mother decided they were too mch trouble to brush, so they went.
Anger in Action—
Clipping away half Dad’s mustache while he slept. On the way home to Albuquerque after my army discharge in Arkansas, I stopped to visit Dad in Houston, the first time in years that I had seen him. Mother was angry that I visited Dad. Being slapped HARD when I quietly defended my sister’s position that her boyfriend not be forced to return to Kansas during the busy Labor Day holiday. Mother never apologized. Indeed, when mentioned a couple of months later, she said she didn’t remember the incident even though it caused me to abruptly leave for California. “Disowning” me because I held different political views and married a Swedish woman. Anger was Mother’s default emotion.
I have zero memory of Mother ever telling me she loved me. Dad, by contrast, told me he loved me. Although she lived only an hour and a half away and we repeatedly offered to drive her, Mother refused. Dad visited even though he lived halfway across the country.
These are just a few of the many instances of Mother’s meanness and anger. What a miserable person she must have been.
I have friends who loved their mothers, whose mothers were kind to us all. A friend once said that something should be added to the water until the drinker proved capable of being a good parent. Mother would have flunked.
It took several years after Mother’s death for me to accept that she simply lacked the tools to be a good parent. Today, I look in the mirror and recognize her genes. Some of the aspects of my personality that I admire come from her, but I neither like nor love her. She was simply my mother. Dad, however, is a warm memory.
I readily admit that being a parent is a hard and often thankless job. Unfortunately, time has not softened the jagged edges of my memories. Acceptance finally came, but reality mutes it.
On my wall hangs some wisdom from Illusions that your true family is your friends, not the family you grew up in. The friend who sent it is right.
What about your parents?
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