Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sometimes I wonder....

.... what it would have been like to be one of those kids whose parents doted on them. That kind of parent that was at every event and kissed knees better and who said "I love you," and meant it: the kind of parent who enjoys being around their children just 'cause: the kind who isn't in competition with their child and who doesn't take every thought their child has as somehow about them - against them....

I don't know Joannie Rochette. I'd never heard of her before her mom passed away the day before Joannie was to compete at the Olympics. All I know about her really is that her mom was at every performance and practice for Joannie's entire life. I can't imagine.

No, I can imagine what that would be like. The death of that person, a complete stranger to me, tears at me because I can imagine - that's all I can do: imagine - because I know what it is like to have the complete opposite: a mother who treats their child as an annoyance and a liability: a mother who wears her resentment as an impenetrable cloak: a mother who looks for ways and means to trip up their child; a father who is incapable of bending or straying off a rigid path.

I know a father who, despite wanting to love his child, was so rule-bound that small transgressions took precedence over love; doing the right thing (his right thing) was the paramount pursuit; a father who would ignore a child's small hurts because to do otherwise would make his child weak and dependent: a father who didn't know the immense power of a simple hug and a kiss on the cheek to heal that skinned knee: a father who was mostly gone by the time I was five.

Not having that sure thing -the solid foundation and absolute immovability of my parents' love - is what makes me weak and distrustful and scared all the time, even at my age: nearly half a century.

And it is the not having but seeing it all around me that reinforces the endless loneliness: the endless being on the outside all the time.

My father is dead; my mother died - the person she might have been - when she was two....

I can say nothing further to my father because he can no longer hear me. It is far worse with my mother. She is here still but defends herself from thinking or feeling or hearing by talking all the time, endlessly, about herself. Despite that she is there, that I can touch her and yes, I can scream in her face, she cannot hear me, she does not see me and she has never known or wanted to know me.

I cannot rise because I cannot find the ground to rise above. There has never been solid ground. And so I float.

For my own children, however, there is ground: absolutely solid, immovable ground. I will kiss them better no matter how small their hurt; I will encourage them, no matter how much their philosophies differ from mine; I will be proud of them, whatever they accomplish; I will tell them I love them - a million million; I will believe in them and be fascinated by them; and I will adore them simply because they are: and by this, I will care for that other child, who suffers still.

Thanks to for the beautiful photo.


  1. Stop. When you notice yourself thinking about this, just stop.

    Instead, think of your wonderful daughters. Their lives wouldn’t be what they are without you. All of you, especially the trials you’ve faced. You channelled this pain into being a brilliant parent.

    It sounds like your mother’s head is well and truly stuck in that pesky proverbial sand. She’s sticking her fingers in her ears and shouting, like a child that knows what you’re going to say but doesn’t want to hear the words. She knows she’s wrong, admitting it would only destroy her poorly held together world.

    I’ve experienced a fraction of your capacity to be a great mother, you did what mine has always been afraid to do and encouraged me. You picked up where she fell short for being ‘concerned’ I would become arrogant. I was unworthy of praise until I’d done something genius. I didn’t deserve a childhood any better than her own neglected upbringing. She never had any of this ‘kid gloves’ treatment and she wanted to ‘prepare me for the real world’, because it’s a tough place. All these excuses don’t add up to much; I became my own worst enemy, I told myself at every turn that I’m no good, I’m useless, hopeless and will never succeed, trying will only reveal to everyone what a failure I really am. Best just to keep my head down.

    You helped nourish the dead roots of my self-esteem for the first time in my life; you laid foundations that now hold me up when people challenge me and when I challenge me. When I tell myself I can’t do it, that I’m arrogant to think I could, I think of you and all the things you’ve said about me and my ability to succeed. Then I push through it, and I shine.

    When I write a book, yours will be the first, and possibly even the only name on the first page. The page where I dedicate it to you. You got this ball rolling, you’re the reason I’m in college right now, the reason I have a place at two universities. My real mother lost this honour when she excused herself for the first time from telling me I’m great, that I can be anything I want to be and that I’m everything to her. I’m disappointed she couldn’t do it, but I’m not angry because I think she understands that she couldn’t and, deep down, wishes she could have.

    If you want ground to rise above, bury this. Dig a hole in your mind, throw her in, cover it over and stamp it down. Then rise above that.

  2. When I first read this, much of it resonated in me, and I left it to percolate inside while I went to look at some of your photography. I came across a picture of a solitary cross, I assume beside a prairie road where someone died. There is light in the distance but it doesn’t reach the subject. I flashed back to this story, and cried.

    I grew up in an environment where love was conditional. If I was a good boy I was loved. If not, love was withheld. I grew up trying to please everybody, and as you know, that means you never please anybody,

    I wanted to be a poet, a writer, a musician, an actor, something creative. My family thought those pursuits were mere hobbies, that I should be a lawyer or an engineer. They would read things I wrote and say, “That’s nice, but I see you only got 97 on the math test. What happened to the other 3 marks?”
    They never came to see me perform, even when I received great reviews in the paper, something they usually put great stock in.

    When I grew up I tried to be the perfect Dad, always encouraging my children in their creative pursuits. I always thought I was accessible but it seems my upbringing led me to analyze each situation and come up with a solution that would gain me the most love. It took me a long time and a lot of failed relationships before I realized that I was seen as coldly logical and manipulative. My daughter no longer speaks to me. My son taught me the error of my ways.

    He and I were trying to get around lack of trust and his inability to talk to me. He reminded me of an incident years past when he had lost a girl to a rival. I sat him down and told him that I too had had my heart broken but I always recovered, he would have many loves in his life, keeping busy and not moping is good, blah, blah blah. After describing my logical, intellectual response to his pain, he said, “Dad, what I needed to hear you say was, ‘You must be sad.’” This was an epiphany for me. I suddenly realized that people wanted their feeling validated, not my clever solutions to their problems.

    My son is now my best friend and confidante. He freed me to realize that people want to see behind the mask to the real. Now I speak more of how I feel and less of what I know. That is why I can read your story and feel your pain.

    Besides the topsy-turvy upbringing I had, I was exposed to a lot of family tragedy. Between my sixth and sixteenth birthday I lost my beloved grandmother, my step-dad (my dad), my little brother, and two uncles I dearly loved. My other little brother was too young to have understood all these traumatic times which toughened me. He seemed to have the perfect life while I went through two failed marriages. His was the perfect marriage, the beautiful couple, the great kids, the big house, the cottage. I feared that if and when tragedy struck, he would not be equipped to handle it… and he wasn’t.

    I’m sure you are wondering of there is a point to all this disjointed rambling. I certainly hope so. The first is the old cliché: what doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger. You are a tougher person for what you had to go through. I can only guess at your life but I am sure you are a strong person when you need to be, and you know how important it is to be there for your children.

    The other, more important point is this: You have risen above your sad upbringing, made choices for yourself, and are a worthwhile person with nothing to prove to anyone. Your hardships were opportunities to grow, and just look at you now! For most of my life I blamed my family for preventing me from following the path I wanted to follow, but I had a choice every step of the way and used them as an excuse for failure. You didn’t do that. You were strong enough to have made choices that have led you to at least three worthwhile careers: mother, photographer, writer, and okay, even curmudgeon.

    When you are feeling down, please remember this. We cannot choose the cards we are dealt, but how we play them defines who we are. You have played your hand to perfection.

  3. Thanks for these kind comments.

    All is well, really. I'm usually more sad for my parents, who missed out on the close relationships they could have had with me and their grand kids. There's no war, there's just not a lot of closeness. Neither my mom nor my step-mom has called their grand kids in ages. It's weird. They wait for everyone to come to them but they forget that kids have lives and friends and jobs and school.

    But besides all that, I have AWESOME kids, a great man and really good friends, one of whom is going to be really famous pretty soon.


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