Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hanging on in quiet desperation

Learn: to gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience.

My father has always been simple and straightforward. I could tell that he found fatherhood burdensome and unpleasant. He spent very little time in our company and found every excuse to be absent. He even built himself an “office” in the detached garage with a recliner and a tv, and spent hours in there with the door closed. Since he was violent and critical when he was around us, that was probably for the best.

My mother, on the other hand, is a confusing and complicated person. She got emotionally stuck as a little girl with a huge gaping hole that she has never been able to fill. She is passive-aggressive and needy and manipulative.

When I was little, I yearned for my mother to be strong, to be protective of me, to advocate for me. I longed for a father who could express affection and interest in me. When I realized that was never going to happen, it was a source of a lot of self-doubt and pain. I thought it was because of my own shortcomings that I didn’t deserve that from a parent. It took a lot of work on my part to understand that it was the result of a cruel twist of fate: my parents really shouldn’t have been parents. They had no ability to parent and no desire to change. Every horrible thing that went wrong was outside of themselves and beyond their control, in their eyes. They got married because that is what you did. They had children for the same reason. Certainly not out of a desire to be responsible for another person’s life and upbringing. I think they thought of children and family as something to be endured.

Time and repeated experiences have not resulted in change except a sort of reduction in intensity. You can’t really talk to my mother about anything serious, because she won’t or can’t offer any of her own insight. When it comes to the past, especially, she will stubbornly and consistently stick to the trite old “I did the best I could,” no matter how lame or patently ridiculous that excuse is revealed to be.

For a long time, what I wanted more than anything was for her to tell me how she felt about the things that happened and what she understood about them now. I wanted to have a conversation that included honesty: “this is what I did and this is why, and this is what I learned from it”

But that isn’t going to ever happen. I am the kind of person who needs to understand, and she is the kind of person who only wants to forget; to skim along the surface and avoid any “unpleasantness” and “discomfort” at all cost.

It seems sad to me that my parents are now in their seventies and have no real connections in their lives. The few friends they have they rarely see and mostly they keep busy with things like bridge and gardening and golf. My father runs away to Reno as often as he can and my mother shops for things she doesn’t need. He will keep distancing and she will keep grasping until the end.

“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way” – Pink Floyd


  1. In many ways my relationship with my mother is the same.

    It's unfortunate how we get stuck: being assholes, being victims, being sad, being lonely.

    Let's get stuck being happy instead. or!

  2. wow- my mother is exactly the same- exactly. No problems...just superficial bull and pretend lives. I recently told one of my brothers that mom is just pissed b/c life turned out to not be at all what she expected. Adn instead of accepting her life as it is, she'll just go on being pissed- forever. She'll never confront a problem or an issue b/c of the momentary discomfort is might cause...instead she'll cause discomfort forever by avoiding it. sigh.
    I'm with jessica- let's get stuck being happy instead!

  3. Jessica: They are both excellent examples of "What Not to Do" and inspiration to be a good mother!

    Mary: Welcome!

    It really helps to know I'm not alone with this. Growing up I was made to feel bad if I ever let on that we didn't have a perfect family. All I ever wanted was a real one.

    I just don't want to be "stuck" - period. (although I know what you mean) I think it is really sad when people stop growing and learning. I am WAY happier than I ever thought possible when I was a kid!