Helen,the organizer of a writing group I attend, “assigned” us the task to write about our Parents. She warned us it will be difficult for us, that we will be surprised at the difficultly. My reactive first thought was dismissive: “It will not be hard for me!”. I hold the memory of my parents in high esteem because they gave me the gift of life and, most importantly, the personal qualities structure upon which I have built my life. These gifts are precious to me because I am satisfied with my life and filled with anticipative curiosity about what my future holds. Life is good and getting better; how hard can it be? Well, it turns out harder than I could ever imagine! Certainly not because of the paucity of things to talk about but the exact opposite. The subject is enormous for me; to big to easily get a handle on. But, I often profess to enjoy challenges, so how can I “chicken out”? Well, I can’t; so, here we go!
Yeah, Right! I’m stuck already! I’ll use a “tried and true” method derived from the answer to the question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time! Oh! One other thing, don’t expect order in what follows as I do not have a clue to what my “subconscious mind” will offer-up. Never have; never will. So, let’s see what’s in the subject line of this first missive from S.C.M. It is: “prejudice against others, lack of”. OK, here goes. I consider myself a person that holds almost no prejudices against either persons or groups; just enough that I will not be mistaken for a saint.I thank my parents for this. Seriously, both of my parents were persons that held few prejudices. I can make this declaration with certainty; I do not remember a single incident of overt prejudice in my presence. Sure, I heard my Father make hurtful comments and “jokes”; never from my Mother. However, they were of the variety typical of the “go along and get along” times that were the 1940’s and 50’s. Tasteless as they were, my Father, I believe, never “acted out” on them. On the contrary, my Father and Mother always acted toward others in a way consistent with the principle: Everyone has the right for their pride and dignity held inviolate by others. Mom and Dad never made speeches, they just quietly expected their children to do as they did. I believe they succeeded because we did, and continue to do so.
I recently received this from S.C.M.: “discipline and unconditional love”. This is another easy subject for me to discuss; here’s why. My Mother was responsible for the administration of discipline in our family. My Father was not very good at being “stern” is the best reason, for his reluctance to be the disciplinarian, that I can come up with. However, my Mother, all five feet of her , could appear to be very stern! She normally displayed her “sweet and happy visage” to the world, but in the presence of transgression, she quickly revealed her other side. The look on her face sent the plain message: “What are you doing? That’s wrong! Don’t do it again! Or else!”. This was usually enough to get the results she sought; compliance with the “rules” of our home. On the rare occasion that it did not, the “Or else” part came into play soon after. It consisted of a mainly symbolic “beating” of the transgressor”s posterior parts. My Mother’s favorite tool was a wooden clothes hanger which the transgressor had to fetch. Have you ever tried to beat a child’s behind with such an unlikely and awkward tool such as a wooden clothes hanger? It is a poor substitute for a paddle indeed. That is why I label these “Beating”s as symbolic; the only thing hurt was our feelings, including, I suspect, my Mother’s. The last time my mother tried to apply her standard form of discipline to me occurred about the time I entered puberty. I was by then at least six inches taller than her. I do not recall what prompted my Mother to invoke the “Or else” part but it most likely had some thing to do with the first stirrings of my feelings about my identity as an individual. Believe or not, my Mother tried to spank me with a clothes hanger! I was having none of this! As we danced around each other, we got to laughing so hard we finally had to declare a truce. Nothing changed except the”Or else” part was dropped for ever. However, the last time that I saw that “look” on her face was shortly before she died at ninety four. I think she was mad at me for not letting her die sooner. Sorry about that Mom.
The most important part of discipline in our home was the complete dis-association between the reasons for the discipline and our feelings about the love and security that were unconditionally bestowed on us by our parents. Somehow, and I am not sure how, our parents made it clear to us that the love they obviously had for us was NOT conditioned by good behavior on our part. Believe me, we tested this concept on numerous occasions. I believe my Mother and Father loved their children, warts and all. I understand how difficult it can be for a parent to maintain this loving attitude when your children act badly. I have been there as a parent on several occasions and can easily relate to the difficulties they must have experienced with us – their children.
Whoops! There’s another one! Let’s see, it is: “Expectations”. I assume the meaning intended is as in the phrase: “my expectation of you is that you live an honorable and useful life”. This assumption will have to suffice as it is all I have to offer. Neither of my parents, in my memory, ever expressed anything in the way of their expectations of how their children should live their lives. They were satisfied with their lives as far as I can recall. I believe their attitude can be summed up as: We set the example, now live your own life accordingly. For me, there is both a positive and negative part in their attitude. I was allowed to make my choices without feelings of guilt when I made the wrong choices. For instance, my decision to not become an auto mechanic, as was my Father. I am certain my Father wanted me to become an auto mechanic and eventually run his garage business. It did not happen, but he never expressed disappointment in my decision to follow another path. Much to his credit in my view!
However, there was a downside to my parents attitude about “expectations”. I was left in a state of ignorance of my potential outside the intellectual range of the auto mechanic – the world of my Father. No one pointed out that a college education could be had for essentially nothing in the next town and that I was capable of earning a degree. I was ignorant of my ignorance about higher educational opportunities I had. I had to find my way on my own. Which, come to think about it, is not bad way to achieve something. On balance, I believe my parents “expectations” worked for me.
Here’s another missive! Is S.C.M. ever going to tie of this game? What have I begun? (Thanks Helen!) This missive is about “independent living and self reliance”. I’m going to make the assumption S.C.M. wants a discussion about my parents practice of not doing things for us that we were capable of doing for ourselves. They also required us to do our share of the household chores. Am I asking for your pity? No, I’m not, for the simple reason that my parents demands resulted in four persons who left home with all the skills necessary for “independent living and self reliance”. For instance, I had to make my own scooter, fix my bicycle, fix my first car before I could drive it, find my own way to the library, teach myself the art of model building, and devise my own activities during summer vacation. I left home confident I was ready to lead an independent life. I believe my confidence in myself has been fully justified by the arc of my life over the sixty years since I left home. For this gift I can only offer a profound thank you. That is my highest accolade. So, thanks Mom and Dad; thanks for everything.
Hey! Down there! S.C.M.! Are you listening?
Yes! What’s up?
Please hold off on the next missive. I am getting tired; I need a break.
OK! Take your break.