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Jan 22

Memories of My Parents

In Brief—Bay remembers his parents and the influences they had on him from childhood and adulthood.

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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.

real-memoriesOne 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?

The Weekly Sampler—

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Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on    September 2013

6 comments

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  1. Arthur Ulene

    Wow!

    A question. Exactly where are you located physically? What city? Just hoping there’s a Scandinavian trip in my future. If so, there’s a visit with you in my future, also. All the best to you. Art

    1. Don Bay

      I’m located in the Old Folks’ Home on Frösön island just across the lake about six minutes from our apartment in Östersund. The city is in north-central Sweden about as far from Stockholm as San Francisco is from Los Angeles. I look forward to seeing you and Priscilla whenever you can make it to this neck of the woods…and I do mean woods. Thanks for the kind words. The same to you all.

  2. Donna

    How sad, Don, that your only memories of your mother are bad ones. Yet, from what you say, your mother never felt loved by her parents either. It must be hard to give love if you never feel you have received it. Thank goodness your father, even feeling rejected by his father, was able to give you love. I marvel that you have gone beyond your childhood to become a compassionate, loving person. I hope you and Ewa are able to give your children the love that you lacked.
    Donna

    1. Don Bay

      Since we can’t chose our parents all we can do is make the best of what we have. Fortunately, my father was a loving and caring man although he was an alcoholic for too many years. Beyond being rejected by his own father which may have contributed to his alcoholism, I have a strong suspicion that my mother contributed to his illness through her own negatives. Dad just didn’t have the ability to pick the right women. Divorce was the best thing that could have happened to him.

      I have said that bad bosses taught me what NOT to do. In the case of my mother, she taught me what not to do. That said, some of the aspects of my own personality that I like are from Mother. Credit where credit is due.

      I share your hope that Ewa and I give our children the love they need. Being a good parent is far more than creating a child. Awareness of their needs as well as your own requires constantly paying attention to the relationship. Fingers crossed we pay attention.

      Thanks for the kind words and your observations. Yet again I am fortunate to have you for a friend.

  3. Jim Newton

    This is hard stuff. We can’t undo what our parents did to and for us, whether it was love or anger or controlling or some infinite number of other things. And we react in countless ways. That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger is one of them. Forgive your parents is another. Finding our own ways in spite or because of them is a must, and some of us at least do that. My parents were mild versions of yours. Still, I would rather be my dad than my mother, in spite of his obsessive masculinity. And yet I sometimes say oops, I’m being my mother.

    Thanks for the thoughts. We all need to reflect on who we are and why, and thinking about the lessons for good or bad from our parents is important.

    1. Don Bay

      Generally, I agree with your views. As I said to Donna, we can’t chose our parents, so we have to make the best of what we have. I have made an effort to do that, but I have too often failed. What I am today is the result of my having paid attention to what worked and what didn’t. I hope to continue on this path.

      Thanks for your point of view. There’s a lot of wisdom there. Looks like you paid attention.

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