My mom is 78 and my dad is going to turn 80 this year. Logically I think about their mortality. Someone asked me the other day which of my parents I was closest to growing up, and I had a hard time coming up with an answer, because I seem to dwell on the negative. I feel like, if my kids end up like me, I will consider myself to have been a failure. So what does that make my parents? I don’t necessarily think I was entitled to perfection from them. I think I could have taken responsibility for myself. So, I know, intellectually at least, that they aren’t responsible for why I am persistently less proud of myself than I wish I was, why I feel like a failure. I blame myself for falling short. But as a parent, I know what my goals are, and they are to successfully guide my children towards joy and happiness and success, whatever that means to them. I would tell them that it is up to them to take charge of their own lives, that they suffer the consequences of their own decisions if they don’t, and that I can’t make them do anything, that it is entirely up to them, but if I am not able to get through to them and inspire them to do it, then I will consider myself a failure, even though that is a contradiction.
My mom was a hard act to follow. She was successful, and admired by people, including me. She was doing good for the world, running a not for profit organization. She was liberal in the way she chose to raise us, schooled in the latest enlightened thinking on the subject, but it felt more like an intellectual exercise. I didn’t always feel loved by her or my dad. She was judgmental, even if she chose to pretend otherwise and refrained from expressing it. I always felt like I knew what she expected and when she was disappointed. She was disappointed that I smoked pot. My sister didn’t care or notice it about them, but I did. She was disappointed, but she allowed it, because she thought we would do it anyway, and this way she could know about it. She was never wrong, at least I’ve never heard her admit to it. She could be impatient and righteous even though she was a self avowed atheist and even as her liberal parenting philosophy made her tolerant and permissive. It was the wrong combination of authority and structure. It was permissive but with disclaimers. We weren’t free, we would have been more free if we kept more secrets, and it wasn’t loving, but it wasn’t controlling either. It pretended to be free and loving. And I always wanted to leave it.
I used to say I wanted to run away from home. I said, “I hate this family.” At six I remember recognizing that I was financially dependent on them, and that’s why I couldn’t run away. I don’t remember how I came to that realization. I don’t remember if someone asked me how I would live, or whether I was trying to figure out a plan and came to it on my own. It makes sense in retrospect that I became an accountant.
There wasn’t the structure I needed, there wasn’t the guidance I needed. I wasn’t happy, and she didn’t help. I often wish I could go back and assert myself more, so I wouldn’t have to blame them. I hated them, but it felt wrong to do so, because they let us do whatever we wanted. They weren’t strict. They were the best parents in the world. So why did I feel so imprisoned? And how could I rebel against that?
I guess I tried too hard to please them, and now I blame them because it kept me from living my own life.
My dad was a bit more artistic and emotional. Maybe he would have been more loving if I had been. He was creative, a teacher, and he played the guitar and he sang, but he suffered his own depressions. And he lived in the shadow of our mom too. If their opinions differed, she got her way. I should have been closer to him than her. My husband thinks that’s the obvious answer to the question. But I specifically remember telling him that I hated him more than I ever did her. And it probably hurt him more than it would her. Maybe I expected him to help, and was more upset when even he couldn’t help me. I was never sure who I was, and never felt free enough to be whoever I wanted to be. I think I felt like I didn’t belong in that family. I didn’t want to be like my older sister or my younger sister or my brother, who was the youngest, and honestly, did I ever even really get to know him? He is the most like my mom, but he was still young when I left for college. I didn’t even want to be me, I wanted to be someone else, I should have been an actress, but that’s a topic for another blog, I guess.
I am the writer in the family, at least I say so. So does that mean that I need to be prepared to give their eulogies? Or does it mean I should be the last one to do it? Writers who are truly honest alienate everyone. I’m still held back because I think they don’t deserve it, but I can’t help feeling angry towards them.
OK, here is honesty. Forgive me for this. I don’t defend it, it is a secret what I am about to tell you. I’ve never told anyone. I have recurringly fantasized about being freed by their deaths. I have always felt that the people in my life who know me have such a hold on me that only their deaths would free me. And I used to imagine the person I would reinvent myself to be if they died, my mom in particular. And later, it was my husband. I was jealous of Elie Wiesel when at the end of the book, Night, he was finally all alone. I know that sucked, I know it is an awful kind of freedom but it is freedom. And I didn’t need my mom to die to achieve it. Because my time with her, and with my dad, was limited. I would move out eventually. I always knew that, and I looked forward to it.
But now I am married, and not free, and there is no expiration date short of death. And I’ve got kids. And my husband probably doesn’t deserve this, but he is a lot like my mom, as if I chose him to work out my issues with her. He is not as intuitive as I. He is not as empathetic towards the kids. He loses his temper faster than I do. He does not apologize for it. It’s not like I don’t lose my temper. I am not, after all, happy. But I usually apologize for it, at least to the kids. I’m sure if he died, I would be heart broken, and guilty and unable to become the person that I wanted to. I wouldn’t want to benefit because my kids lost their dad. Actually I’m not sure of that. I think it’s probably true. But I don’t want him to die. I could, however, live without him. I just also wish I could figure out a way to be myself and stay with him.