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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

On parents... pt1



I keep mentioning my parents in passing on here and, after my Easter posts, it was suggested that I have some unresolved Daddy issues.  Well, guilty as charged, but I think there's about 50-50 split between both of those people that brought me into this world.

I've already said about the death of my sister at eleven weeks and how that must have affected my early years.  After all, something like that pretty much cleaved my parents in two, right down the middle, like a chisel.  And, at that point, I would have been around two years old.  I would have been taking my very first steps into independence.  Looking at my children now, it would have been a point in which I was in need of support, nurture and reassurance.  However, as luck would have it, my parents were not able to provide that.  They were reeling from the unexplained death of my sister, dealing with the guilt that they should have been able to do something about it, anything, and the feeling that they were somehow to blame.  My father's mother came to visit my mother after the death and her first words were: "I've never said you were a bad mother, just ask anyone!"  Hardly the sort of supportive comment you want to hear.

Basically, my parents, both of them, would have reverted to their own coping strategies at this point.  My mother had a hard childhood at the hands of her parents.  My grandmother, the one who is dying, was something of a bitter control freak, who truly believed that she was, in her words, "the Queen Bee".  People did what she wanted.  I know that she has abused my grandfather for most of his life, but they're from a different generation, he loves her and would protect his abuser to death.  And he will go on doing so.  The gashes in the walls from thrown plates, the smashed Pyrex dishes, the broken appliances, the changing decor... Basically, violence was never far away in my mother's childhood and she learned to brood and seek revenge elsehwere.  She learned to seek nurture but not to give it.  Her own ability to emote was already pretty stunted, her facial expression does not change - she has the same expression for happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, hope and fear.

This means that I grew up with a mother who was often, through no fault of her own, unable to emote and show me how to emote.  Add in the deathy of her daughter at a formative moment and you have amother that was simply unable to offer me any nurture at all.  My mother needed support.  She needed other people to help.  She had a two year old who learned that crying brought no one and nothing and who probably acted up for fear of losing his mother.  I would have picked up on the melancholy, the sorrow, the emptiness and, at two, I would have had no idea why it had happened nor how to deal with it.  My mother did not get the support and nurture she needed and so could not give it to me.  She was also undiagnosed post-natally depressed after my sister, so I can only guess at how that was magnified by her death.  I know now, looking back, that my mother simply did not cope with things, especially looking after me.  I was too much for her but there was no one else to foist me onto.  Result: I spent most of my time with a mother who resented me on some level, that irrational feeling that the surviving child gets for living whilst the other dies.

I don't blame my mother for this, how can I?  It was something that my mother had no control over and something that was perfectly natural.  In times of stress my mother's coping strategy is to retreat into herself and show nothing.  I would have been ignored and mostly spurned.  I imagine most of my time would have been spent amusing myself.  Experience with my own children shows me that two year olds can look after themselves but only for short periods of time before they need fresh parental input.  And my mother would have been unable to do this.

Irritation and anger would have been the response to most of my entreaties for attention, which would explain my own introversion, and on some level I would have felt out of place.  Perhaps the well-spring of my addiction lies amongst this, or perhaps it does not - maybe these events merely meant that I searched for compassion in a less fulfilling way so that my addiction was thus rather than a safe play that some people have - it made everything more serious and sombre.

My father reacted differently.  Being raised in a home in an era when divorce was unthinkable for the social shame by a gay father and a philandering mother must have placed its strain on his childhood.  My grandfather of course did not have an affair with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia when working for BAe, and certainly there was never a solid gold toilet seat sent when he got diahorrea that I have never seen, oh no.  By the time I remember anything my grandfather had a separate room at the family home and stayed round with Uncle Phil most of the time, where we visited him on occasion.  My grandmother fell in with a Hungarian, who turned out to be an ex-Nazi as it happens and who may well have served in the SS if anything he said toward the end of his life addled with Parkinson's was true.  He certainly served with the Third Reich on the Eastern Front, escaped a Soviet POW camp, escaped Hungary during the 1956 uprising and landed on his feet here in dear old Blighty.  This, as far as I can tell, took place when my father lived at home.  His mother was a gossip who very obviously played favourites, with that spot held by my father's younger sibling.  My father was his father's favourite, but his father was gay, not always home and ostracised from his own family for being gay - I have never met any of my grandfather's family, and I don't think my father has either.

All of this meant that my father had his own demons.  Factor in a teenage conversion at a Billy Graham speaking event, multiple sexual dalliances at University and cheating on my mother before they were married and you get some strange results.  He worked hard, he is, after all, a workaholic; and on some level, I think, resented having children to support.  He liked and aspired to the high life and children represented, in these early years, a kind of responsibility that he didn't relish.  It was from him that I learned that I was born a year after their marriage and that meant most of the time was spent with my mother being pregnant.  I've seen all of the wedding photos, I think my father was expecting a little more time before sprogs arrived - though he always expected sprogs.

He was hit more by the death of my sister, something I only really realised when I saw him at Easter.  I think he had always hoped for a daughter, she would have been his favourite, and looked forward to having that link.  I can relate, having a daughter, there is something about the relationship there that is appealing and therapeutic.  It's different to a relationship between father and son because there is less pressure.  Given my father's own family I can also see how he would felt unbearable pressure with me because I was male and he wouldn't want me going down the route of his father or losing me like his own father lost him.  Rapproachment was gained later in life, before I can remember, but I know that it was lost around the time my father went to University.

Being a workaholic would have meant, and did mean so far as I can piece together, that my father sought solace for the loss of his daughter in work.  He started working away from hom.  Ostensibly to bring in the higher wages that allowed my family to live well but also, I think, to distance himself from the pain of what was going on at home.  He worked long hours, he worked late, I did not see much of him and nor did my mother.  He had an affair at this time too.  I firmly believe that the real reason my parents split up when I was fourteen was because of the death of their daughter and their inability to cope with that sadness as a couple.  My father was always looking for something else and I think this was why.  It meant for that two year old that there was no constant father figure and that his father was never there for him.

As that two year old grew up there was another child to his parents, a younger brother.  For the mother this new addition was a replacement for the daughter, not a perfect one and there was still lingering resentment that he wasn't the girl she wanted, but he was the favourite by comparison to that cold and odd little quiet boy who heard everything but said little that had the termerity to live where the girl had died.  I don't blame that woman for her feelings, they make sense.  For the father, the elder boy became the favourite, insofar as the father was capable of having one.  But some part of the father remembered the girl that was dead and remembered his own childhood.  His method of sparing the boy from the pain of his own parental situation was to distance himself from the boy.  The boy could not be hurt by the father, who believed he would die aged 40, if the boy did not know his father very well.  A fear of failure, of getting it wrong, drove a wedge between the father and the two year old boy that the boy did not understand and could never deal with effectively.  When the father tried to encourage he ended up pushing and forcing, making the boy cry at his own inability to succeed and please the father.  In turn, the father grew more frustrated at his inability to connect with this strange introverted boy and thus became ever more distant.  The mother could not hug this boy like she did the youngest and she could not understand how to connect with the boy after having her own sense of normalcy wrenched from her.  No, she connected instead with the youngest with the kind of desperation one expects of someone suffering PTSD and post-natal depression for the second time.

The elder boy was thus left alone and to his own devices for a long long time.  And part of that boy wondered if it was his own fault, in a wordless and unaware part of himself.  It would become more clear to that boy only when it was suggested and pointed out by others but, by then, it would be too late.  For the parents, all is well and calm.  As far as they can see they have repaired what they can and they have reached the point where they feel healed.  For the boy...

It's late.  Work is not going well again and I feel sick to the stomach with stress and worry.  I shall no doubt return to this, it needs another part.  I don't know when though.


Best keep your songs in the safety of darkness / and never expose them to light // Open with care / back in the box / or your songs might grow wings and take flight

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