My father and I have by no means seen things eye to eye throughout the years. One could even go as far as to say we had a rocky start, that lasted half a lifetime. That second half of a lifetime is however better than many people live to see. My father and I are of the same threads yet woven into different cloths. For that reason, we shared distance for many years. The beauty of that, as with any epic tale is that somehow we closed the space between us, we reached common ground, and became friends. We overcame.
My father, unlike many people older than us who are set in their ways, proved to be adept at psychological evolution. He has continued to grow and change through his many years. That alone is unusual, and praise worthy. I too, eventually began the process of maturation, albeit later than most. I then came to see that I too, needed to change my perspective on our relationship. We have been able to meet in the middle. We’ve come to love and appreciate one another deeply and fully.
It took a long time for me to take a hammer to the pedestal I had placed him on, to allow him to be human. Viewing our relationship from this equalized perspective did wonders. My father has become my mentor, my advisor, my confidant…my rock. When times are difficult he is there to listen, support, and offer sage advice. When times are good he is there to celebrate with me.
Not all sons have challenging beginnings with their parents. Sadly, many sons never find their way to reconciliation and fulfilling relationships with those who brought them into this world. I consider myself lucky to have journeyed this lifetime with the man I call Pops. The man who carried the torch of principal and honor. The man who showed me what it means to be a man. The man I love, and whom I am proud and grateful to know as my father.
Parents! If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent! If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking. If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.
For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.Humanity, consisting primarily of me.Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.Ugh, so embarrassing!Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.
We all do our best right?No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.However, if we do our best, well done us!That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole? You decide.
These days I am a parent.Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.Attitude is everything!
Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.Ego talk? Probably. Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.As for my misread on the choice of life partners?Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.
I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?Could we have done better? Certainly.The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.No blaming or finger pointing here.
Back to my parents. They worked hard, or at least my pops did. On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included. Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect. To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics. Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps. My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life. The intensity must have been nearly unbearable. Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure. No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.
My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs. We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood. It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled. In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt. We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together. So it goes.
In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown. I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.“Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.Phew!
By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.Distance allows perspective.Perspective provides the chance for healing.Healing allows courage to blossom.Courage creates the possibility of change.Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.Forgiveness is a universal gift.
Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.
I love you, mom and dad!I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?
Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency. Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?
As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly. In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.
So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.
This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring. Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!
Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.
Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.
I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.
Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?
If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not. I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.
This random thought began as a journal note in 2014.
Table manners. Ah yes! A tiny window view into the vast array of merit badge earning opportunities awaiting on the shoulder-sash of parenthood.
My youngest son is hyperactive…seriously! I’ve been told that during his toddler years, when he was scheduled to attend mother’s day out the staff added an extra person just to handle him. Ha, that’s my boy. Nowadays he can often be seen orbiting the table while we enjoy family dinner, which at my choosing we share every night. It appears he came into this world with a wicked case of the “can’t-be-stills!” I could force him to sit…but why? Will he turn out to be a better citizen if I make him do so? Will he feel it’s okay to be him if I force him to “not be him?” Will any of us digest our meal more healthfully, or feel the world has been made a better place if I declare martial law at the dinner table? Probably not. However, at times, while chewing my food, seated within the gyroscopic whirl of his dining room orbit I do hear distant murmurs of a disapproving throng.
“Can’t you control that kid?”
“That walking about is not proper dinner time behavior!”
“Have the decency to teach the boy some manners!”
As though having trouble staying seated while masticating will lead directly to the unraveling of the social fabric of our entire culture.
As a nod to Emily Post and her followers, I have explained to my son that some people will expect the use of traditional, “proper” manners and that table-orbiting may not be considered acceptable in the homes of his friends. He gets it. He has managed to avoid becoming “that kid in the principal’s office” at school, etc. When required, he’s capable of masterful-ish self-control. Perhaps the best way to look at manners is in context. Are our opinions about the matter based on childhood experience? If so they are traditional, possibly passed down through multiple generations. Yes, these specific rules of behavior have been taught, but are they still supremely relevant? The doctrine of a flat Earth was too once widely taught. Do these lessons still hold their weight in the face of scientific, or in this case cultural evolution?
With that view in mind, one has to decide the goal, and more importantly the ultimate impact of one’s parental decisions. I find that after deconstructing most etiquette protocol and running it through the, “Does this rule truly make the world a better place” test, flexibility and acceptance usually win the day. Because really, are we here to “control” children, or help them flourish? I know which answer sits, or doesn’t sit (pardon the pun) best with me. I’m not advocating mannerlessness. I’ve taught my boys every social rule and regulation that I’ve ever learned. They are aware of and able to adhere to social decorum protocol at will. Afterall, knowing the rules is a perfect starting point on the road to doing the right thing, staying out of trouble, and for those of you who remember high school, avoiding embarrassment.
Long after we are gone, our children will unconsciously run their lives on the operating systems we’ve implanted in them. Our decisions about how to handle their youthful “behavior issues” will have shaped more than those teaching “moments.” That is why I let the kid orbit the table at dinner time. And no, I don’t let him do laps at Thanksgiving with the extended family. Even I have my limits. There are times and places for rules to be followed, and at least in my universe, times and places for their bending. Most adults unconsciously carry childhood memories of being brought to heel over issues of manners or rules. How the lessons were “taught” matters, even decades later. The cumulative effect of an upbringing may leave one with a deep-seated sense of self-acceptance, ambivalence or shame. I know which perspective I’d like to see shaping the future of this world. I bet you do too.
Do you have a similar experience to relate? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!
Juliet zipped her dress and gave herself a once over in the hotel room mirror. “Here we go again,” she half spoke, half laughed then took a swig of Stoli straight from the bottle.
I peered around her well-preserved, thirty-something body into the mirror straightening my tie. “If I have to go to one more of dad’s weddings I swear I’ll set myself on fire!” I said.
“Really? Oh, that would be so sad for me. I’d have to go to all his future weddings without my favorite brother. Besides I thought you always wanted to die in a killer whale attack.”
“Yes,” I acknowledged, “killer whale attack has long been my preferred legendary death scenario…and I’m your ‘only’ brother.”
“Which makes you a shoe-in for ‘favorite’ you awesome man.” She laughed.
Both of my sisters are wonderful, but Jules and I have always been especially close. Our senior, and noticeably absent sister Samantha was supposed to be with us for pre-ceremony cocktails, but it seemed her chronic tardiness had struck again.
Juliet handed me the Stoli, “At least we’ll never have to live with this one.” She smiled.
“True.” I mused. “I suppose being somewhat grown up and thoroughly self-sufficient has its perks.”
The door flew open. “Sorry, I’m late!” Samantha rolled into the room like a runaway circus train, garment bag, cosmetics kit, and other undefined bits of tiny luggage hanging from her person. “What are we drinking?”
“The usual pre-dad’s-wedding fair…vodka.” I handed her the bottle, and as her lips touched it, we had once again closed the circle, completing a ritual celebration that had been part of the Montfort family culture since we were in high school. Other family’s had Thanksgiving or Christmas; we had Dad’s weddings.
Sam lowered the bottle, “Well, here we go again! How long do you think this one’ll last?”
Juliet sat on the edge of the bed pulling on her high heels. She motioned for a bottle pass. “Her name is Candy for Christ’s sake…it can’t last too long!”
“I don’t know,” I interjected. “Bambi lasted almost 13 months…come on…Bambi? I give ‘Candy’ better odds.
By now the average observer may be wondering why three siblings in their late thirties to early forties were in a hotel room preparing for a wedding with no significant others in tow. As it happens, the old expression about the falling apple and the inevitable proximity of its final resting place relative to the tree from which it came is beautifully illustrated by our family. That’s right, my sisters and I are all divorced.
The advent of dad’s pending nuptials had Samantha in a reminiscent mood. “Do you remember the screaming red Christmas tree that Cinnamon put up my senior year? The place looked like a holiday whore house.”
“Who could forget,” I laughed. “How about Buffy’s pink Corvette with the heart decals?” To this day her dropping me off at school in that thing ranks among my most awkward moments. Idiot high school boys alternately calling me a fag for coming to school in a pink car, then saying they wanna ‘tag’ my mom. “Ew,” I’d protest, “she’s not my mom”…and as an afterthought, “and I’m not gay you assholes!”
My darling sisters laughed. We’re a fucked up bunch to be sure, but at least we have each other. The shared experience of growing up in the company of a fast-moving parade of “dancers” has had the effect of “Gorilla Glue for the Soul” on us. Jules looked at her watch and grimaced. Then as her right hand applied deep red lipstick, her left reached into her carry-on luggage sized purse. Without turning her attention from the mirror, she found, apparently by Braille, and produced three silver flasks. She tossed them at me with a playful wink. “Fill ‘em up bro; it’s go time!” As I poured and spilled the Stoli into the unreasonably small flask openings, I laughed to myself. Thank god for my two wonderful sisters. We may not be well equipped for matrimonial endeavors of our own, but we make a hell of a team at a stripper’s wedding.
We raised the dripping flasks high. “To Pops and…uh, Candy is it?” Sam hissed.
Jules snorted, which turned my snigger into a guffaw. I quickly composed myself. Cleared my throat and in my best, if hastily conceived oratorical tone confirmed the name of the stepmom de jour. “Yes, yes, to Pops and Candy, and the two most wonderfully inappropriate, dazzlingly witty and truly lovely siblings-in-arms a brother could ask for!”
“Goddamnit,” Jules scolded. “If you make me tear up I’ll wipe my runny-makeup face all over that white shirt!” I laughed. We finished the toast with the clink of silver and a quick slug. Next stop, stepmom-o-rama!
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!