You never think of your parents as human beings with lives lived, loves lost, moments treasured or, dreams and desires that don't involve you. Sure, everyone knows their parents had a life before they were born, if you're lucky you'll know about that life and if the fortunes favour you enough you will be the one burying your parents when their life ends and not the other way around.
Parents, or at least my parents the way I thought of mine, they were just vehicles to meet the needs of my life, to support me through my loves lost, to share in my moments treasured and to help me achieve my dreams. Regardless of how monumentally they failed in all of these areas in so many ways that I'm still trying to understand, they tried. It's maybe too generous to say that they did their best but it's fair to say that they did what they understood to be their best. It was less an attitude of "Im doing what I can" but more "this is good enough because it's all I know." They will probably never understand that their mediocre effort had a disastrous effect on me, and continues to do so as they lose their role of mythical beings to human beings.
When you're young your parents are like the gods of Olympus, or at least mine were. My fate was completely in their capricious hands. Sometimes favourably, often not. I had no power or agency to decide my own fate. That was their job but as I get older these deities while still capricious are becoming less divine and more human. I guess what I'm feeling now is much the same thing Dorothy felt when she realised that Oz the great and powerful was just an old, frail and scared man behind a curtain.
How do you reconcile two things that can't actually be held together or at least seem so incompatible . Your parents, the two people who should provide comfort; and if not comfort at the very least safety. Those people who are meant to be the safest people in your world were the most dangerous. In more than one instance almost fatally so. If children are not good at seeing their parents as people then that task is particularly hard for me- how can these people be human if they failed so miserably? Maybe that alone is proof enough that they're human beings.
When I was 21 years old I went on a trip to my country of birth. Having left for the final time when I was 11 years old it felt like a weird homecoming but the furniture has been arranged differently in your absence.
Obviously and thankfully I did not look the same at age 21 as I did at age 11. Often I would find myself in situations where my many hosts, particularly my father's sister would parade me in front of visitors or old family friends alike and ask the unsuspecting visitor to guess who I was. Most of these people had last seen me when I was very young, if at all.
"It's Nelson's son" my aunt would squeal with the delight of someone that knows that this joke will never get old. It was cute the first time but by the third or fourth it was just disgraceful and embarrassing for me.
There was one time that I will never forget, my aunt was doing her usual "You'll never guess who" thing and I was doing my best to look recognisable when my aunt's chosen target happened to be an old friend of my father's. It's interesting when grown adults have no concept of you being an adult too because to because the only concept they have of you is of you as child. It was so odd to have this man before me trying to talk to me like I was an eleven year old and failing miserably because, well- I wasn't. The only thing we had in common was my father, so we talked about him.
It was such a fascinating exchange because this man adored my father. He spoke about his great humour, his Joie de Vivre, his love for exercise particularly running and that he loved a party. He particularly loved parties my grandmother would not let him go to, he loved those in particular. He would just sneak out when she fell asleep and return early enough so that she'll be none the wiser. To this man my father was a hero, a champion and an all round good guy. Such a jolly guy was he that he only lasted a week in a seminary. My father could have possibly been a priest! He didn't last more than a week at priest school because he loved a drink and a dance. This was the man with no friends or at least none that I could remember and here I am finding out he was kicked out of seminary for being too carefree and jovial.
To me my father was someone to be feared, loathed and despised. My father was the man with the temper like an avalanche and the aggression to match. To me, my father was the man responsible for the many scars on my body; some he created and some I did at his insistence. My father was not this party loving athlete, seminary reject.
I asked this man so many questions. What was my father like? What was his favourite drink? How many friends did he have? What type of clothesid he wear? Did he dance? Where would he go running? What I was asking was in fact: "Was my father like me when he was 21?" Surprisingly- yes he was. How do you hold this? How do you hold this idea that the person that has hurt you the most by any and all measures, be like you? Would I then turn out like him eventually?
Being compared to my father in my household was the worst insult. Whenever someone was being proud, vain, sadistic or cruel out came the highest insult anyone in my house could hurl: "you're just like your father!" Yet- here I was a young man desperately running away from the idea of ever being like my father and finding out that we had a lot in common than I realised. We have a lot more in common than I ever wanted to have in common with someone that actually tried to kill me.
Would I do that to my children?
If my life were a fairytale, my father would be the villain, partly because that's how he was drawn by my mother to suit her own purposes and also because that's how we drew him to suit ours. The conversation with my father's friend wasn't an exercise in "connecting to the hidden monster within me", it was a life lesson on life itself. While I could comprehend logically that my parents led lives before me, I feel that I emotionally understood what that meant in that moment. My father had once upon a time been a likeable, jovial, charming man but somehow and somewhere he became villainous, cruel and violent. Before all of that had happened, my father was a young man. Before he became a monster- he was very similar to me. How do you hold that and still like yourself?
If my life was a fairytale and my father the villain then my mother would be the hero. Not because she was particularly heroic- she really was not. In fact if she didn't condone my father's violence through act she did so through omission. She allowed and encouraged my father to punish us but then again she was punished herself. She endured beatings like we did and there was nothing she ever did or could ever do to merit them what I find unforgivable is that she had agency and resources to protect us from a violent man and didn't. In her desire to inculcate in us something akin to family values she pursued my father to the ends of the earth and back. After he would cheat on her yet again, my mother would go and seek my father out wherever he was at the time and beg him to return. My mother would take me on stake outs to find who my father was sleeping with this time and she would confront him as he emerged from whatever motel he was at and used me as a pawn in her emotional blackmail. By the time my father walked out for the umpteenth time and never returned my mother perpetuated the abuse my father took with him.
I guess my mother would be the hero in my story because she was the best adult that I had at the time. She failed and failed spectacularly but you need to cling to some comfort when you're a child and sometimes bad love is preferable to none whatsoever.
In some ways children don't like to think about their parents as anything but two people who got together for the express purpose of making you. However my father poisoned our thoughts on how we viewed our mother and how she viewed herself and to some extent my mother did the same in reverse.
So what do I do? Do I adhere to the idea that father equals villain and mother equals hero? Do I adhere to that even if my mother was villainous and my father was kind and funny and charming once upon a time?
How do I hold the idea that my parents are human and that they, like me, are products of their experiences and I am but one of those experiences and not the central one as most children might assume?
How do you measure the efficacy of this paradigm that rules my life when it's clearly full of holes? Am I wrong? Or were they? We're we coresponsible?
The most difficult thing for me to internalise is that, if my father was once upon a time like the person I was at age 21, then maybe what changed him and in fact what poisoned the well for him was my mother and having children.
If my father was like me at age 21, will I turn into him at age 41? This petrified me as a young man and still does to this day. I don't want to be a link in a long chain of trauma and violence. Even if I was nothing like my father- I look like him. I have his last name.
Fast forward another 12 years or so from the moment I had that conversation with my father's friend. I ride everywhere on my bike. I love the exercise, much like my dad did.
Sometimes As I'm riding, to keep me alert I visualise what I would do if I was in an accident or if a driver opened a door in my path. It sounds macabre but it's a sure fire way of staying alert so you stay alive.
I've been scared when one thought enters my mind: I sometimes think that if I die in an accident and the bitumen of inner Melbourne is where I draw my last breath then I have done the most perfect thing to destroy the inter generational cycle of violence.
By colliding with some hard object I would have removed myself as a link in a horrible chain. In fact as the only male child out of the Union of my parents- two people so supremely unsuitable for each other- then that cursed last name representative of so much violence will end with me.
I would also have the added benefit of extinguishing the generational handing down of my family name forever.
Self forgiveness may be easier and kinder and ironically- less violent.