“Be not so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good” – Christian Folk Saying
‘Tis a fact of nature that a man shall leave his mother, and a woman leave her home. In the wild, a mother bear will drive off her cubs after they reach adolescence, the point at which they are able to look after themselves. An eagle will push her chicks out of the nest and compel them to fly away. This world requires that you grow up and learn to take care of yourself.
Only humans and certain pack animals are unique in that they continue to cohabit and relate to their sires and offspring. Yes, a man grows up and goes off into the world, but the tribal strings of familiarity tie him to the people who birthed him and raised him. In time, when he has small ones of his own, he will included his parents in the family circle of raising and teaching the children.
Sometimes we drift away from family, so far we begin to unravel those ties and finally it feels like the people we spent the first third of our life with are become as strangers. Queerly, we see their faces in ours and hear their voices in our own but the people seem unconnected to our lives now. Perhaps obsolete is the more correct term. Once past those anxious teenage years and the early twenties when parents are still good for co-signing loans and dispensing advice, they seem to take on an irrelevance and become a rote chore; call once or twice a month, plan to visit on holidays, call and send card for birthdays, inquire during advancing years regarding the growing list of health concerns. I know there is a genetic switch that drives humans to maintain these relations, to keep the communal connection alive. I admit there are times I wish I was raised by a she-bear.
And I am one of those who has nothing to complain about. My parents are as normal, level, static and white bread as they come. They were born early in the last century, on the heels of the pioneer days where they were raised. I think about how the world has changed since I’ve been alive. Multiply by a factor of 2 the changes they’ve witnessed. Imagine being alive for the last war America did not have to be ashamed to brag about winning. Imagine seeing the end of polio and small pox. Imagine the first television. My parents grew up in a time when you literally walked to school. You plowed a field with a mule. You pumped your household water from a siphon pump. You used every single damned thing you got because “disposable” was not a term recognized until the ‘70’s. My father had a sister who died in childhood (she drowned). My mother had a sister who died in childhood (fever). My father used to take a boat from the island where he lived to go to school. He did not go to college until he got out of the Air Force, in his mid 40’s.
They were not perfect parents, but who is? They were strict but caring. Sure there were lapses. My father is an emotionally distant silent and brooding man who redefines Stoicism the way the Tea Party redefines Republicans. Someone who did his job of being a father not as a joy but as a duty. Responsibly and efficiently but without warmth or comfort. When I was admitted to the hospital ER after an atrocious car accident, I can remember him coming in, standing off to the side, and saying absolutely nothing. A guard at his post.
My mother has always been warm and kind and loving. She cries everytime I move away to another state (maybe she’s secretly afraid I’ll come back with yet another new wife!). She is hopeless mired in the conventionalities of her time. She won’t speak ill of anyone, except to lean over and whisper. I mean, it’s just us, and your talking about someone who’s been dead ten years on now. Why are you whispering? She once described me as being rude as a 2 year old. Really? I am sure she thinks she has failed with me on many counts. She once took me to see a psychiatrist when I was 16 and she came upon me in flagrante delicto in the garage with the girl from down the street. She wanted to know what was wrong with me. She dealt with finding my magazine stash earlier that year with some aplomb, disposing of them while I was out. But now I was too far outside the rules. Needless to say, that was an issue we never found peaceable ground on. That, and drinking, smoking, weed, staying out all night, running with married women, running with Latina women (I kid you not, she lectured me in a horrified way that “they just want to have babies and babies!”). Maybe I had inured her to surprises. When I brought my African American girlfriend (eventually to be my wife) home, she was open, kind, loving, and joyful. Maybe she’d figured it just wasn’t going to work with me and white chicks.
No beatings, no abandonments, no abuse. If anything, a failure to teach us (me and my sister) to live up to our fullest potentials. In their narrow-sighted conservative and class-stratus way, they never felt they were better than anyone else, and not the equal of many. That instinct, almost an unspoken knowledge, they passed on to us. For years and years I fought an unseen, unsaid sense that I was not as good as the person next to me, unless I proved it by merit. Hence I studied harder, read more, drank more, smoked more, drove faster, worked more hours, pushed harder than the people next to me who were probably quite happy with who they were. Of course, I also would crash and burn more spectacularly that others, too. Every job I held, if there long enough, I pushed to be promoted, to be a supervisor, to be in charge. Most people attribute it to my Aries nature. I’ll bet I was just pushing to be better than the person next to me, to overcome the spectre of insecurity I had grown up with. I strove to be a leader because what was in me rebelled at the idea of being a subordinate, but I didn’t know why. Few people are more surprised at my success in my current industry than my parents. They do worry, however, that I am terribly arrogant. Where in the world did I get that from?
I have no children to bring back to the tribe. I live far enough away to make casual visits inconvenient. I don’t go to church or struggle with my house payment or have issues that require either my parent’s advice or assistance. They would fret and tut-tut over my issues of depression and therapy and such, disciplined to soldier on over such self-indulgent disabilities. They don’t comprehend my drive for success and achievement. You know, most of the family has done just fine, but no one’s every really done anything, why do you think you need to make so much fuss? It is all good hearted and parental, but as I’ve changed in many ways, my relationship with my parents has stayed stalled. I still get asked questions on the phone that I had to answer when I was 25. I’m reminded, when I get to talking about ambitions and goals, not to fly too high, because it can be quite a long fall. They tell me to look after my wife, she’s such a nice young woman, without knowing 1/10th the drama, passion, anger, love, excitement and frustration of our marriage. I talk to them and it is like talking to people I have simply known for years. They are like the neighbors you never really knew, but always waved to or chatted up by the mailbox. What’s my dad’s favorite color? No clue, after 50 years. Mom’s favorite flower? I hope its roses, ‘cause that’s what I always send. Basically, they live a different life from me. One of quiet, somewhat sullen, contentment. While mine, I believe, is on the rise. One they will be happy to see me thrive in, but still worry that I’m not being down to earth enough.
What has all of this got to do with anything? If you’ve read this far, you know I can often take a long, long path to the point. The point is that lately I have been very internally focused on my own mind, my own life, my own needs. I haven’t given my parents much thought. I haven’t called or FaceTimed in a month, maybe more. I’ve let emails go unanswered. All the while working on visualizing and manifesting my new improved life and goals. My mother’s 74th birthday passed by on Monday without me even noticing. The way I found out was A)she sent an email asking if everything was okay because she thought I’d call on Monday but I didn’t, and B)my wife sent me an all caps text message reminding me my mother’s birthday was Monday and did I call her???
Now, even a self-absorbed dick like me can see that if you are so disconnected from your parent’s that you don’t remember their birthdays, then that is too far. How must if feel when you think your children have moved on so far that you are only an occasional thought? What does a parent do when their son becomes more of a blank silhouette, a stranger whom they don’t really know? More importantly, is that the price of my long-term happiness? Or have I been so self-centered lately that I have failed to look around me and do the few simple real-world and material things that the decent person I expect myself to be would do? Have I looked so far into the spirit world that I’ve lost touch with the corporeal world so that all the good I want to be is lost in actual practice?
The stone cold from the gut authentic feeling is that I want to have a limited, casual relationship with my parents. Freeing myself from the limitations they raised me with is the biggest step forward I’ve made since leaving home. It has made everything today possible. But I don’t want to cut them out completely. I love my parents, as any son does. I understand them, even if they don’t understand me. I haven’t made it easy for them, and I’d like them to know that in the end I turned out okay. Maybe no one special, but okay. So that is my goal: To have a comfortable relationship with my family that does not dampen my energies, that keeps me grounded in the world, that reminds me of whence I came and who I can be, and holds for me the degree of independence I need, yet the commitment to contact that they need. I do not want to remove them from my life, nor be removed from theirs. But I have to say without guilt or self-recrimination that they are a different frequency than I am, and as such, communication may not always be possible.