It is no exaggeration, and I can double-check with my sister if my memory is accurate or if my mind is playing tricks, as gray matter often does, to write that I can count on one hand the number of times in my whole life I heard my father raise his voice. Sure, we got punished when we misbehaved, but he never EVER lost his cool…no yelling, no curse words, no exhaustion over his screaming, bickering, disrespectful, or unruly daughters…none of that. All we heard, slowly and succinctly and without a hint of regret was, “one… two…three.” If and when he got to ‘three’ the next three words were the most unbearable for our wee ears to hear, “get the stick.”
We had this thin long stick, and it was the choice object with which to spank us in our house and it was just one –whack!– seldom on the butt cheek, almost always on the palm of the hand…and it STUNG so much, but in retrospect, it did not sting nearly as badly as the knowing we had made our father mad. I can still see my own little hand and my sister’s with our fingers balled up tight and hear my Dad’s voice saying, “open up your hand, it’s going to hurt more on your knuckles” and we, fearfully and hesitantly opening up our palms for the one sharp smack! It hurt us more to have upset him, despite his truly remarkable skill of never appearing to be or behaving as if he were upset, than it did to get spanked. His ease of cool and calm and control was I’m sure part of what made us so dearly want to be good for him.
I’m quite sure a Freudian scholar would tell us, when I next write about how we frequently deliberately misbehaved for our poor mother, mostly because she did so often lose her cool, calm, and control, that it was a classic Oedipal/Electra complex, that we so desired to make our father happy and so frequently made an effort to make our mother go ballistic. I can only make an assumption that we learn how to parent by how we are parented. My Bigdad, my Dad’s father, commanded so much respect from us, with, what appeared to be so little effort on his part, that I guess my dad just learned how to achieve this through his own childhood. Very often in my daughter’s life, as I had no partner or husband with which to balance me, I found I was a mix of both my parents on any given day…I was sometimes super cool and my daughter respected me very much and I was sometimes a total wing nut, screaming and yelling and door slamming, I am sure making my daughter snicker that she had made me go ballistic, and not respecting me one single bit.
When customers sometimes say to me, “you’re just like your Dad” I don’t know that they realize, one, how much it means to me, and two how wrong they are. I know they are referring to my love of work and my desire to do a good job and I take it as the greatest compliment. There are however so many ways in which I am not at all like my Dad, it takes much more than one hand to count them. For example, there are things about both my parents that perplex me, like how they have the money and the time to travel anywhere, but don’t care to, that they have the money and the time to go out to dinner and try any new restaurant and any new meal on any given night, but don’t care to, like that they never voted for Bill Clinton but voted for George W., twice!!! The differences could take both my hands and feet for counting! The fact is, despite what I think are some of our major differences, my desire for a happy life & a loving family & a beautiful home & work that provides both joy and income & my understanding of making ‘plenty of deposits in my karmic bank‘, remind me that in these ways, I am just like my Dad.
There is nothing I would not do for either of my parents. Despite my frequent clashes with my mom, as I’m told is so common between mothers and daughters, I still love, honor, and respect both my parents, and appreciate them deeply. I know so many women my age who have no parents, or had terrible parents, or had only one or the other, neither of which proved to be an advantage, and I know how lucky I am, I truly do. I watched my mother closely last week after a freak accident at home, in which my father was badly injured, keep her cool, calm, and control, in a way that I did not expect. She impressed me, tremendously…It was the first time in my life I have ever seen my Dad scared, and it scared me nearly to death, but my mother stepped up and did not convey any of the fear that I think she felt, she was so awesome, and I realized, she was so awesome for my Dad more than for herself.
I realized that perhaps part of the beauty of their 47 year-long marriage is that they both desire to please the other, they do not want to disappoint. Similar I suppose to being good parents, raising children who do not want to disappoint, loving and disciplining children in a way that creates respect and a desire to please those they care about. I guess I understood that it’s not a parenting issue, it’s simply a love issue: We wish to please those we love, and I think I concluded that anyone who wishes to displease me, or did so deliberately in the past, does not or did not love me. It was like a hospital waiting room epiphany. I hope as I grow older I continue to find my own balance between the calm and the ballistic, the control and the freak-outs, my Mom and my Dad.