This pandemic has brought a few unexpected gifts to me, one of them being the amount of emotional space that has been created to reflect on my upbringing and its effect on raising my daughter.
Growing up, I think the concept of family dinner and family time, for example, was important to my mom. For the most part, she was a stay-at-home mom. Maintaining the home was important to her, yes, but she was also a golfer and a painter. She had a slew of good friends. She was personable, fun, and now that I look at her more closely, bored.
My dad was a great sketch artist. It was his dream to go to art school. His father, a very straight-laced banker, forbade him. Grudgingly, he went to college for a business degree. They bought a house and started a family—as it should be. Maintaining the lawn and our home’s “curb-appeal” was important to him. My dad enjoyed tennis, golf, had a lot of friends, and was resentful.
My mom and dad met in high school, Grosse Pointe High. If you’ve ever read the Preppy Handbook, well…. They dated throughout high school, graduated, got married. I’ll write more about my mom’s history later, but she came from a world where men were drinkers, were unreliable and eventually left. My dad came from a world where family and appearances were the most important thing, but was also raised in a world where children are seen and not heard.
I wonder what it was like for my mom to be married to a man who was pretending. He went to work for his father at the bank for a while and then secured a job with General Motors, as most young men did in Detroit in the 1950s and 60s. And that was to be his life until a forced retirement in the early 90s, I believe. Was she frustrated for him? Sad? Did she ever feel that she had settled too quickly? Was he resentful? Did he want more? Did he want to leave Detroit and explore the world? I do not have the answers. I never asked. And, actually, I don’t think I want to know. I’m content crafting my own story. I don’t think I would want to know that my parents were unhappy as they raised their children. I would not want that sense of feeling responsible that they stayed together for my brother and I.
For the most part, my memories are ones of feeling physically safe, loved and maybe not always understood. I was quiet, somewhat introverted, and sometimes anxious. I had big feelings which, I think, my mom understood and left my dad confused. There were never any deep talks. I had a great deal of inner turmoil, but, as safe as I physically felt, I did not feel emotionally safe enough in that environment to bare my soul to them. And because of this inability to let my feelings out, they endured and tolerated a lot of bad behavior from me. There were arguments, screaming matches and eventual resolutions. I pushed and tested wherever I could. But my grades were good and I eventually got into Michigan, so I suspect they knew/hoped that I was going to be ok.
I wonder what they thought? As much as they probably hated it at times, they allowed me to have a voice. They allowed me to screw up. They allowed me to break the rules. And I know that this was not neglect. They loved their kids. Maybe I was a good distraction from their own personal woes. Maybe they saw the struggle occurring inside of me and did not know what to do except to let it play out. I don’t know. I never will.
And now, with both of them gone, and me crafting stories that may or not be true, I look at the present. My daughter is being raised in an environment that is so much more honest than the one I came from. She has bore witness to being raised by 2 dads who are far from perfect, but who get up every day and try. I have shared with her (some) my mistakes from the past, my humbling and teachable moments. She has seen her dads squabble and fight. She has seen hospitalizations, surgeries and recoveries. She has experienced sickness and death. She has seen the trueness that is humanity.
I value what she has to say. I don’t always like it, but I value it. She is a strong, “don’t mess with me” young woman. She is funny, loveable, active with scores of friends. And she’s happy. I think I always knew this, but the pandemic has really allowed me the clarity and time to look at her through a calmer and clearer set of eyes.
She’s honest. She has shared things with me during these times that I could never imagine sharing as a teen with my parents. There is a sadness about this realization, but one that is replaced by a gratification that I’m trying something different, and it’s working. She is an old soul and a wise soul. And she is true.
So when I speak of a gift, I can say that I know what it’s like to feel that you’re not able to be your true self. I have two shining examples, and, for part of my life, me.
No more. And that, my friends, is a gift.