On parents.

Posted: January 28, 2009 in Family, Headspace, Memory Lane

1iconpenHaving parents is kind of an alien concept to me.

Whenever I think of what it would be like to have parents, I kind of get this surreal feeling. Like, I can’t even figure the details of what that would be like. To have someone who bore me, raised me, has a thousand-and-three stories about what my first word was, how old I was when I took my first steps, how incredibly adorable I was…

What time of day I was born.

Seriously. My birth certificate doesn’t say what time I was born. Is that weird?

My parents divorced before I was four. I have no memories whatsoever of my father. He was granted zero visitation – monitored or otherwise – and zero custody. He did take me away from my home once, without my mother’s permission, while she was away one day. My sister made him take her too, so I was never alone with him. I was maybe five or six at the time. That was the last time I ever saw him (and any other “sightings” prior to that incident I could have totalled on one hand). I remember playing with a kid in his neighborhood, who in the course of our play dropped a huge rock on my head, and I took a nap in his guest room to sleep THAT little experience off (hello? napping after a head injury?). I don’t remember his voice or appearance or any other thing at all about him or about that day. For my whole life I was aware that my father lived in the same town as I did, but I never saw him. I wouldn’t know him if I fell over him. I apparently have half-brothers and half-sisters that I’ve never met.

The sister I DO have does not share the same father with me, as it happens (something I didn’t know until I was twelve). Not long after Grandma died my sister came out to Arizona for a visit, and we had several tough conversations. She told me about how my father abused her, which was the reason for my parents’ divorce and his complete alienation from my life. So, I’m not particularly interested in having any contact with him, anyway.

My family. It sure does like its secrets.

My mother died when I was eight, and I have vague recollections – feelings, more like – of what it was like to have a mother. From what I can recall, and from some of the things my sister told me, she wasn’t around much anyway. If she wasn’t working her night job, she was asleep. If she wasn’t working or asleep, she was at the Legion. So it was my sister’s job, being ten years older than me, to look after me. Although, hah, her idea of “babysitting” was to just throw knock-down drag-out house parties, since she was stuck at home watching me. Which is why she got in trouble and ran away at sixteen. After which most of my “babysitting” was done either by a nearby aunt, or by my grandmother.

After my mother died, I had my grandmother to raise me, so when I get to missing a maternal figure, it’s usually my grandmother that I miss. She was almost a bigger fixture in my life when my mother was alive, and she then raised me from the age of eight until I got married at seventeen, so I’ve gotten over feeling guilty that I miss her more than I miss my own mother.

Yes, I felt guilty. I had therapy. I got over it.

So, there was nothing about my childhood or upbringing that one could say even approached conventional. While lacking parents I never lacked parenting. So whatever it was I was missing about having a mother and father remained vague to me for a very long time.

Actually, it’s still kind of vague to me. Which is probably why I’ve spent the last several days struggling to write this entry.

I guess I wish I had someone that I could call. Someone to ask for advice. Someone to share some roots with. Someone with shared history. Someone who has been there consistently throughout my life. Someone to be proud of me.

In short, I want the ideal example of what parents should be toward their adult child. So it might be a better thing that I can imagine what it might be like, but don’t actually HAVE parents, because they would just disappoint me.

Hmm. That might have sounded more harsh than I intended it to be. Or maybe I DID mean it to come out harshly.

See, I have very few examples in my life of parents living up to this exemplified standard. Calvin’s on the outs with his mom, his biological dad has never been a part of his life, and his step-dad is in prison. Several bloggers I read (one in particular, and you know who you are Miss!) kind of make me grateful that I DON’T have parents, with all the crap they’ve been going through with their own. And quite a few people have expressed a weird sort of envy at my orphaned (for all intents and purposes) state. “You’re lucky you don’t have parents to piss you off,” they say. Or, “At least you don’t have to deal with the drama.”

Seriously. People have said stuff like this to me, often enough to leave me blinking. I know they don’t mean they think it’s a good thing that my mother is dead and that my father might as well be. It just seems to me that given the choice, some of these folks would actually choose not to have parents at all, rather than the ones they have.

I don’t know. It’s just weird to me. Given my relative lack of family (no pun intended), I tend to be hyper-aware of relationships, and perhaps overcompensate in the desire to maintain them. Yet, poison is poison, and if anyone, parent or otherwise, is a detriment to your life and your mental health, I believe you should remove that influence from your life.

Maybe I would have liked to have had the ability to make that choice for myself, whether or not to have my parents in my life. Yes, I think that’s the point exactly. Yeesh, only took me eleven-hundred words to figure out THAT little nugget.  Although this isn’t the first time that writing an entry has helped me figure out how I really feel, and I have no doubt that it won’t be the last.

I have other thoughts, about the other side of the coin, and what I believe my responsibility is as a parent to grown children. Which will come in a subsequent entry. Certainly it’s a topic that I know will prove to be easier to write about, since I have real-time, real-life experience in the matter.

So, gang! What are your thoughts on the subject?

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Comments
  1. crisitunity says:

    I would never tell you that you should feel lucky functionally not to have parents. That’s a really strange thing to say.

    Isn’t it? People can be odd in their efforts to express sympathy.

    I can sympathize with this because I’m an only child. BF has a brother, and throughout the first year or so of our relationship I was always asking him crazy questions about the experience of having a sibling. It’s like being raised to speak a different dialect than everyone else; the other dialect seems off-kilter, and it’s difficult to imagine your brain thinking in it.

    I used to ask Calvin a lot what it was like to have younger sisters, I totally get the “different dialect” thing.

    Having the choice as to whether to have parents or not taken away from you has to hurt, but…none of us has had that choice, Laura. Adopted kids don’t choose to be adopted; nuclear-family children don’t choose to have parents and 1.4 siblings. I didn’t choose for my parents to divorce or for them to have only one kid. I’m not being critical here, I’m just saying that you’re floating on the same sea as the rest of us in our various familial boats.

    You’re absolutely right, none of us DO have that choice, do we? I never thought of it that way. And I know you’re not being critical. It’s kind of nice to know we’re all floating on the same sea, really.

    I’m also not sure that you’re seeing the up side here. Although your experience was unusual, I’ll bet it’s added a richness you may not be aware of to the way you deal with life, an addition of points to your emotional IQ. You understand that everyone comes from a different place, which is a difficult concept for many people to grasp. You’re more open to blended or quirky family setups, instead of insisting that nuclear is the only way a family should be. How nice it would be if everyone were so tolerant.

    You’re very kind. And I do know that I’m a sum of my experiences, and what I experienced in my childhood has made me value and view the concept of “family” differently than other people. It’s why it drives me nuts when people comment that I’m not a “real” mother because I have step-kids (and THAT rant is forthcoming in another entry). There’s many definitions of family, not just shared DNA.

    This post was very pondery, very matter-of-fact, and there wasn’t much that indicated you were hurting at all. If you are, I’m so sorry. If I’ve made it worse, I’m even sorrier. Them’s my thoughts.

    No, I’m not hurting, just pondering. I value your thoughts and really appreciate you.

  2. K says:

    Sorry, have to be on the of the many that say your lucky. I’ve never asked for a thing from my folks and for some reason when I’m in trouble and need them, they can’t “emotionally” help me. It’s like their brains short circuit when it comes to me, yet they are my brother’s shoulders to cry on. They also defend both my brother’s and let anyone (including my brother’s) say and do anything to me. Thank God, for Paul or I’d have no one to protect me!

    I didn’t know any of that about your family! It’s weird how some people are naturally nurturing, and others just don’t know how. I’m glad you have Paul!

  3. angelcel says:

    My parents weren’t ideal but they were my parents and now that they’re both gone I look back on them more logically and realise that they really did do the best they could with the life tools they were given. Despite a difficult relationship with my mother, including emotional abuse, she was physically ‘there’ for me and even (confusingly) fought in my corner when I was threatened by others on the outside. So…I’m having trouble even imagining what it must feel like for you. You didn’t have the bad, but neither did you have the good side of having parents around and, yes, I can imagine that the lack of a parent figure must hit hard, both when you have *good* news that you want to share and bad news that you want advice on.

    See, I think we all gain that perspective as we get older, and many of the beefs we had with our parents as we grew up, we realize when we become adults what their perspective was like. I used to get mad at Grandma on a frequent enough basis, but now I know what a struggle it was for her, a retired person two generations removed from me, to raise a teenager. And I think a lot of families experience what you described about your mother – the wagons get circled when an outside influence threatens, but internally relationships are less than perfect.

    I often think that when people go through tough times with their parents it frequently makes them very special parents themselves, basically because they’re determined that history does not repeat. This is definitely the case with you – I hope your kids appreciate just how lucky they are.

    You are so very sweet! I’m just muddling through, just like any other parent on the planet. We all bring how WE were parented to the table when it’s our turn to parent. I used Grandma’s influence to my best advantage whenever I could.

    You know that I’ve already said that I feel protective of you, maybe because when I worked out our relative ages I am actually old enough to be your mother (albeit a young mother, thank you). 🙂 Reading your words above makes me want to give you a big, big, enveloping hug, the way only mothers do. You’re a sweetheart and I wish you’d had a better start in life but then perhaps you’re a sweetheart *because* of the start you had in life. x

    Some day I’m going to cash in on that hug!!! You’ve always been the most wonderful of friends to me, and I really appreciate your kindness.

  4. Kim says:

    I haven’t met a person who doesn’t suffer some form of parental issue, from “minor” all the way to “will be in therapy forever.” While your case is pretty unique, I think your feelings about it are completely human, especially the desire to know more about your roots. It’s in your DNA, literally running through your blood and is what makes you, you. To have a big gap in that knowledge has to be extremely frustrating sometimes. I have a friend who is adopted and she has spent most of her adult life, a lot of time, energy and money looking for her birth parents. It’s almost like you’re in a similar situation, sort of.

    You know, that was something I forgot to mention. Part of my issue(?) sorrow(?) at not having traditional parents, is that I don’t know where I get certain traits and characteristics from. Some things I can deduce from what I have in common with my sister – if I have it in common with her, it must come from our shared mother. If I don’t, it stands to reason I get it from my father. But, whose eyes do I have? Whose nose? Which one liked to sing? And whistle? Which parts of me do I really get from them, and which parts are well and truly my own, with no foundation set in DNA? It’s a conundrum.

    I was lucky enough to have an amazing dad until I was 33. I still feel ripped off he was taken from us too soon, but I recognize I got more than a lot of people get from dads who are alive and well. He made sure we knew all about where we came from, loved telling family stories, loved family, period. I miss him when stuff is shitty. I miss him when stuff is good. When he died it ripped our entire family apart and almost seven years later we’re still keenly aware of his absence.

    It’s so lovely that you had such a great dad, and even the pain of his passing is testament to how well loved you were, and he was, during his lifetime. I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m glad you have so many happy memories!

    So I don’t know what’s worse – not really knowing any kind of a dad or having one of the greats and losing him too soon. They both suck pretty badly, actually.

    True dat.

    I’m just one big ball of fun today.
    Very good post though.

    You’re a big ball of YOU today, just like every other day, and that’s why I value you so much. You’ve got plenty of your own stuff going on right now, and yet you took the time to write such a thoughtful comment here. So, thank you.

  5. Calvin says:

    I have a unique position here because I know most of the players here and have spent many years with Laura.
    After reading the comments it’s funny how they sound like sound bites from many of our past conversations.
    Crisitunity said
    “I’m also not sure that you’re seeing the up side here. Although your experience was unusual, I’ll bet it’s added a richness you may not be aware of to the way you deal with life, an addition of points to your emotional IQ. You understand that everyone comes from a different place, which is a difficult concept for many people to grasp. You’re more open to blended or quirky family setups, instead of insisting that nuclear is the only way a family should be. How nice it would be if everyone were so tolerant.”

    I think Laura is a much better person today because she was raised by her Grandma and she feels the same way. We have had long talks about how she was raised and how it was different than it would have been had her Mom lived. Now this is based on info from family so who really knows but I do know Granny did a great job. I think Granny was the one that did give her all of what you said above.

    It is tough to acknowledge that your parents may not have been your best option for being raised. That was a knowledge that was hard and long for me to come by. You have no idea how wonderful you make me feel. I’m so glad that you got to meet Grandma on several occasions and that we can share memories about her. That you think the best of me comes from HER is just the loveliest thing you could ever say.

    K wrote
    “When I’m in trouble and need them, they can’t “emotionally” help me. It’s like their brains short circuit when it comes to me, yet they are my brother’s shoulders to cry on. They also defend both my brother’s and let anyone (including my brother’s) say and do anything to me.”

    I think this is just one example of why sometimes people may say your lucky you don’t have parents.
    I do find it strange to think how much different my feelings are as an adult towards my family as compared to when we were kids.
    I think the key is the transition from child to adult and some people are better at it or at least more tolerant.

    I think you’re right. Our feelings toward are parents certainly change as our perspective – from child to adult – changes. And hopefully the family is lucky enough to grow with those changes. I think a lot of parents find it hard to address their now-grown children on an adult level, and still insist on parenting them the same way that worked for them when the children were small.

    Angelcel Wrote
    “I often think that when people go through tough times with their parents it frequently makes them very special parents themselves, basically because they’re determined that history does not repeat. This is definitely the case with you.”

    This so true with Laura not only because of Granny’s influence but she is very good at learning from not only her mistakes but those of others.
    And I have to say having been in relationships (ex wife & family) with people that cannot seem to learn that the stove is hot…It is a beautiful thing to be in one with someone who grows all the time.

    And it’s a beautiful thing to be with someone who allows for growth in their significant other. If it weren’t for you letting me be me, the lessons I’ve learned in the past ten years would have passed me by.

    Kim Wrote
    “So I don’t know what’s worse – not really knowing any kind of a dad or having one of the greats and losing him too soon.”

    It seems most of our talks center on the not knowing part the what might have been…
    Because without the absolute knowledge that Mom or Dad was good, bad or somewhere in between you will always wonder.

    All I know for sure is Laura is one of the most complete people I have ever come in contact with so whatever path you took to get here it worked for you.

    It would be lovely to have that crystal ball, wouldn’t it? The one that shows us the consequences that “might have been”, had the other fork in the road been taken. Just being able to talk about it with you eases a lot of the hurt, worry, frustration, and loneliness of not having a connection with my roots. I made more; I made my own, with you.

  6. Holli says:

    You might be able to get your time of birth from the Bureau of Vital Statistics. My mother never knew her t.o.b., I wrote to them, giving the info, dob, name, and they sent a letter back with her t.o.b. That was in PA – not sure if all the states record the same info.

    Thank you so much for the information! I didn’t realize that the copy I have may not be the same copy as what the state has on file. I’m going to check it out!

  7. Being raised in an abusive situation and knowing my parents brings me in at a different angle. I ran from them as soon as I could and it made me try to find ways of dealing with things on my own. My brother and sister stayed in town and are still dealing with turmoil and issues every week with them.

    I’ve read the entries you’ve written about your upbringing, and all I can do is echo what others have already said. Your experiences made you what you are today, which is a pretty great guy. I think true strength comes from going through tough situations and coming out the other side with a better understanding of yourself, others, and a tried and true ability to treat others with respect and sympathy.

    This whole thing shows that good, decent and responsible people can be found with different parental stories. It leads me to think even more that each of us have so much control over our own lives…no matter what our parental situation is. Obviously there are bigger issue that can’t be overcome…I hate to generalize.

    I understand what you’re saying. It drives me nuts when some people try to pass off their current behavior as being caused by stuff that happened to them during their childhood. Some people can go through hell, like you, and become responsible adults and good people. Other people can whine that “mommy spanked me” a few too many times, and they turn into drug addicts and serial killers. The hell?

  8. AmyD says:

    It sounds like you and Calvin have spent a lot of time discussing the ends and outs of this. Your family story (I chased the links) is tragic, sad, and yet, incredibly interesting at the same time.

    Heh, if it’s one thing Calvin and I are good at, it’s discussing the ins and outs of EVERYTHING.

    As a mom and coming from that perspective, I have to wonder, if your mom hadn’t been living on borrowed time, if there had never been a heart problem, would she have been a different mother? The fact that she took you guys away from an abusive man seems to point to her caring a great deal for her children. I have to wonder if she didn’t sacrifice emotionally maybe out of some hope that you guys wouldn’t be so attached to her and miss her so horribly when she was gone?

    Although, obviously, I don’t know your mom and I’m not privy to all the details so my questions and assumptions all come from my own perspective. One of my greatest fears is leaving my children.

    Goodness, I never thought of it that way. She did live with the spectre of death hanging over her, for her entire life. And I imagine she did care for us to the best of her knowledge and ability (she had to have, she was raised by my Grandmother after all). If she did try to maintain a distance from us, I think it was the wrong way to go. Just based on what I would have done under the same circumstances, that is. Love as hard as you can for as long as you can. That’s my motto.

    Aside from that, you know what I’ve been dealing with 😉 and maybe all of it is right. Maybe in some respects you are lucky to not have to deal with the drama, but I agree it would have been nice if you had some say in all of it. I don’t know that I would ever feel comfortable (even dealing with what I am) to look at you and say, “Heh, well, you’re lucky.”

    Honey, nobody should have to deal with what you’ve been dealing with. NOBODY. And you’re handling it all with much more grace than I think anyone else would in your circumstance. I wish you could have the idyllic relationship with your parents that I’ve always wanted to have with my own. Reality is a bitch, innit?

    Wow, I’m sorry, I’m writing a whole other post here. Suffice it to say, your post has made me think a lot. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with all the thoughts passing through my mind now. I might have to write a post of my own.

    Sorry, again, for the novel.

    Sorry if I stirred up uncomfortable thoughts for you. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know your thoughts. And, I like novels! 😀

  9. Jen says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for several years now and have always been a “lurker”. Family is such a complicated issue. But, I do agree that the toxic people in our lives should be removed, blood relative or no. I’ve had to make some tough decisions in that respect.

    I’m glad you de-lurked!

    While I can’t understand the parental issue from your perspective, I do understand the feelings expressed in this post. My parents divorced an ugly divorce when I was young and I dealt with the ramifications of that and probably always will. I will spare the details, but suffice it to say that things sucked and it was painful. It will never go away, even though I cope and make the best of what I’ve got. I find myself wondering what it would be like to have a non-fractured, estranged family. I deal with infertility on top of it, so my feelings on the matter get very raw and complicated.

    It sounds like you’ve been dealing with your familial issues with a level head, regardless of the pain and confusion you’ve must have dealt with.

    Calvin was pulled into the details of his parents divorce far more than what was appropriate for a child to be involved – it seems the uglier the divorce, the more likely it is for one party or the other (or both) to lean on the children even when it’s not appropriate. I’m sorry you went through painful times, and I’m glad you’re strong enough to make the best with what you’ve got. The more people comment on the topic, the more I’ve come to understand that my circumstance was only unique in its details – we all have family issues and parental issues and stuff we have to “deal with” as grown-ups that are less than comfortable. I hope things are well for you, and that they get better with each passing year. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me.

  10. iamheatherjo says:

    First – My time of birth isn’t on my birth certificate either. But I have a state issued copy of the original. I’m sure the original is amongst my Mom’s things but I’ve never gone looking for it. She says it was 11:25am on a Thursday, so I’ll take it.

    Oh, okay, so I’m not the only one. Perhaps the state records office can give me more info. I’m pretty sure your mom’s knowledge is accurate! 😀

    Second – I’m happier with the family I’ve chosen for myself than I’m sure I ever could have been with the traditional kind. You’re part of that.

    And you are a big part of my own personal happiness! I’m honored that you consider me part of your family.

    That whole ‘blood is thicker than water’ has never really made much sense to me. Lots of things are thicker than water…you know, like tar and sludge… 😀

    And cake batter, and Guiness, and chocolate shakes…

  11. K says:

    Sorry, have to be on the of the many that say your lucky. I’ve never asked for a thing from my folks and for some reason when I’m in trouble and need them, they can’t “emotionally” help me. It’s like their brains short circuit when it comes to me, yet they are my brother’s shoulders to cry on. They also defend both my brother’s and let anyone (including my brother’s) say and do anything to me. Thank God, for Paul or I’d have no one to protect me!

    Laura said:I didn’t know any of that about your family! It’s weird how some people are naturally nurturing, and others just don’t know how. I’m glad you have Paul!

    Odd that the time isn’t on yours and Heather’s certifs…??Wonder why?

    I actually HAVE a fam issue to discuss with you and Calvin, if you’ll permit. I need your opinions..at least from people who aren’t completely crazy!

  12. Taoist Biker says:

    I always deemed my folks to be “nothing special” but the more I learn the more I think that “nothing special” can be pretty damned good.

    On Thursday, we called at 11 and said we’d be there around midnight. They said “we’ll be asleep and we’ll leave the door unlocked for you.” They were sad to see us go.

    They ain’t perfect and I’m still a little peeved at them for a few small things during my childhood, but all in all they did the best they could with what they had.

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