I am lucky I have any friends.
Well, a few anyway.
I am lucky I have a lovely wife and great adult children.
My role model as a child was a father who never said please, or thank you. Who would come home from work in a foul mood and think nothing of filling every room with bright, flashing caution lights:
Do Not Touch.
Do Not Say The Wrong Thing.
Please let me be different, keep my dark moods to myself and not spread them like dust in the wind. How dare you believe you had the right to impose your fury on us.
It was an ongoing lesson in mind reading and hyper-vigilance, in anticipation and avoidance. All the ingredients of healthy future relationships.
If we are lucky we find a partner who can tolerate our madness, as we do theirs.
What I see in you was all that was missing in my family. Putting others first, pausing so that what is said may be more palatable, an inviting smile coupled with all the social graces a doctor’s daughter was privy to.
I, on the other hand, was raised in an emotional jungle, filled with anger and darkness, and pain. Be sensitive and alert to every nuance and you’ll be ok.
This is what normal is, right? The world spinning around my father’s evolving pathologies, my mother not putting her kids first before his craziness. This is normal, right?
I learned to just be a lively, cute youngest, adept at being on the periphery, out of harms way. Not so for my sister and brother. The only look into how other families navigated life was from 1950’s TV- Father Knows Best or Ozzie and Harriet.
They talked to each other. Had fun. Found a shoulder or a hug. Love was made visible and real and tangible. I again sat on the outside - I’m ok so ignore me - preferring safety to what love, in some fantasy world of black and white TV, may have to offer.
Then I met you. Smart and beautiful. You wanted kids. I wanted kids. I was terrified. You got us a dog, and two cats, to wake me up. My training had begun.
I could take care of another living being. Four legged ones, anyway. I could come closer. It was safe. But a child? I knew nothing other than not wanting to be like my father. What if I was my father waiting to emerge?
I wanted to be able to do what you did. To just be there, all eyes and smiles and heart, there. Your needs disappeared. Your attention was complete.
So this is what a good mother is about. Not about needing to lie down often with a headache, or waiting to rat one of us out to our father, the enforcer.
There are spaces inside of us others cannot fill. If we were fortunate most of the spaces needing filling got sufficient tending and care. I watched you with our children and know they felt loved. Did I have enough of what you so effortlessly and naturally gave? If we weren’t prioritized can we prioritize loved ones?
I wanted what you had. I would learn from you. I would do my best, but sometimes fail to manage the empty places, so your attention needn’t be drawn away to attend to my hunger.
I learned from your joy, from your pleasure. You were never reactive. I was always reactive. I could read malice and ill intent, coloured by cynicism, into any situation. Careful, shades of my father. You stayed calm and quiet. You would patiently listen to my sense of malevolence ever present and just not respond, not reinforce it. My parents were masters at reinforcing one another’s stories of an untrustworthy world, leading to further isolation and alienation. You didn’t do that.
So we raised kids connected to others. Sharp edges get more rounded, noises get softened. I watched you reach out to build support and friendships, with our children the beneficiaries. I came along for the ride. I could take care of our kids, and friends' kids, and a dog.
Retreating to the periphery still resides in me, but I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and discomfort so withdrawal was not the only option. The edges of whatever pain I have known have been worn down, leaving me more time to just be still without fear of wounding myself, or others.
What was it you wanted that I had? I was roller skating, shorts and no shirt, mid summer, deeply tanned, when you first saw me. Glad I didn’t fall. You told me you liked what you saw.
I think I was a kind of fertilizer for what needed nourishment within you. Brash New York City kid, outspoken, funny, say what you think. I remember taking you for pizza at the original Ray’s in Greenwich Village. I cautioned you to say what you want to the pizza guy as soon as you got to the front of the line. It was not the place to start reading through the fifty pizza offerings. Either the pizza guy or the line up behind you would kill you if you took more than ten seconds. Welcome to New York. To my world.
You became more assertive. More outspoken. More willing to make a decision as your family spent half an hour deciding whether it was time for lunch. I modelled not giving a shit what others thought. I told you if you walked down the street with no head no one would notice.
You wanted this. You wanted to be seen and heard. You wanted to believe it’s ok to be noticed. I think you saw that in me.
You are the flower.
I am the fertilizer.
So very romantic.
What we both feared we were without, we helped each other get. We both had all the pieces and parts required, and somehow have managed to hang in there through the dust and debris and caring the building of a person, and a relationship, requires. If what you say is true, I am not my father. I am able to come close. I am able to be present for our kids, and for you. If what I say is true, you can stand strong and bold while also being smart and beautiful, as the years have only added more passion to your loving soul.