In my mind I have always had this dream conversation with my dad. He would sit there and listen to me talk about my childhood. He would take in all of the things I had to say about how shitty things really got. He would let me cry and vent, and support my words. And when I was done, he would say how he saw things, why he thought things had played out the way that they had, and then he would apologize. He would look me in the eye and apologize for all of the bullshit. For all of the late nights I spent being screamed at, for his wife, for his tantrums, for being kicked out. It would be a heartfelt apology, one that meant he had sat down and thought about all of these things, and realized that maybe a good chunk of my teenage years were unfair. We would then hug and kiss, and maybe go out to dinner, or go for a walk, or really do anything because MAGIC, the air would be so crystal clear for us. Right?
My life has always seemed to be a stream of connections and unsettling disconnects.
Recently I have come to realize that 1. My dad will never apologize. 2. I no longer need him to.
If you met a stranger, and that stranger told you that they loved you, what would you say? At large family gatherings I often feel that way. The way in which there are people I see maybe at most once a year, but when we embrace or leave each other at the end of the day “I love you’s” can be heard, under the rifling of jackets, the packing away of leftovers. It is engrained in all of us, that we love our family. We do this without question and without much thought; because you are SUPPOSED to.
As I get older my life begins to have more and more layers. And with those layers, come secrets. There is no doubt that there are some members of my family who I can dive into those deeper layers with, but there are others who stay at the surface. We stay on the surface. There are other family members who I have a much deeper more blood stained relationship. And there comes a point, where you don’t so much as give up, but you let go.
We are taught that blood is thicker than water. That there is nothing more bonding than a family, and therefore nothing that you should hold on to harder. Just like in marriage family is “for better or for worse”. Can it maybe be time that we moved past this thought? I will in no way say that family ties should be cut for simple fights, traditions and culture are engrained into us, and when we have families that uplift and hold those things true, well than we are in luck. But not all families are this way. Just because you are related to someone does not mean that you like them; but it does mean that you love them? This concept seems so crazy when you put it on paper and think about it. Those who come from overall great homes may not be able to grasp the concept of not wanting anything to do with a family member, but for those of us who grew up in fragmented homes, the idea does not sound far fetched.
Maybe because I am queer, and embrace many thought systems that cis society shuts away, this whole idea of breaking up with family makes perfect sense to me. The same way that poly relationships and pansexuality make perfect sense to me. If someone is making you excruciatingly unhappy why on Earth would you keep them around? If your friends boyfriend was abusive, would you encourage your friend to stick it through because he does at the end of the day love them? We do not apply the same rules to those we meet in life, to our families. We are taught to be tethered to our roots. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, you do not turn your back on family. But is that really healthy?
I look at certain members of my family who are miserable. They have exactly what society wanted them to – a home, cars, a spouse, kids etc. But what they do not have is inner peace or sanity. I look at so many of the adults in my family and their relationships with their parents and just shudder. No one ever broke the cycle. This is not to say breaking the cycle is packing up all of your shit and never being heard of again, but no one ever sat down with anyone and had that dream conversation that I used to pine for, with my dad.
Maybe the problem is, that we put all of the pressure on those who enter our life, and not enough on those who have always been in it. We expect girlfriends or boyfriends to change bad behaviors, otherwise we leave them. We call out friends on their bullshit, and give them ultimatums. How often do we do that with family?
Both my grandfather and father have always said this one phrase to me: Listen to what I say, not how I say it. Which is word by fucking word, absolute bullshit. It is them giving up on pursuing ways of checking themselves before blaring out hurtful words at others. It is them checking out so hard in fact that they have left all of the sorting, unpacking, and understanding up to you. It is selfish as all hell, but it is also the way that they have chosen to be. Now I love both of these men dearly, but it is this mindset that has severely hindered us being able to have conversations centered around emotions as opposed to black and white subjects like finance.
Family unlike friends provide for us. For better or for worse, your parents did probably feed and clothe you as a child (some more than others). Your family is basically obligated to make sure that you make it as a human. That obligation I feel makes some parents absolutely lose their minds. The obligation of taking care of, sculpting, minding after, and BEING A GOOD PARENT to a kid. Jesus. I am too young to know what qualities an individual most possess to be a good parent, but I am old enough to know that I have met a lot of folks who do not fit the basic criteria. But society tells them to have children, so they do, and then their kids spend their lives waiting for apologies that they will never receive.
Telling a straight cis man who has been life tracked to have a good job and 2.5 children, that he is not fit to be a good parent, sounds like a quick way to end up nursing a wound. The media still to this day shows women as milk machines, who are meant to throw dinner parties, shuffle the kids off to school, have dinner on the table, build a rocket ship for Timmy’s science fair, etc etc. Of course we as individuals and many of us as feminists have moved away from this all American ideal, but that is only SOME of us. To many people that is the future that is expected of them. They will go home to family on the holidays and be asked about jobs, and about their love life. But what if we DID start telling certain people that they should maybe wait out parenting for a bit. Get their own shit together before they tried to (literally and metaphorically) start taking care of someone else’s.
How are people like my dad, who came from mindsets like my grandfathers, supposed to raise emotionally stable children?
At what point will we as a society see the importance of therapy and mental health diagnosis? You know that friend who often refers to her mom as crazy? What if her mom had the means to see a therapist before she had kids, and was therefore able to find the trigger of that “crazy”?
It’s funny, growing up I ran away a lot. I would drop off the face of the Earth and go sulk in unknown cities. My family would always say: Running away won’t solve anything. Thinking about it now, I realize that while I have always had the literal flight response those who I am close to in my family run away in their own ways. They run away into their own heads, and don’t talk about things out loud. Which then creates tension whose core you are totally unsure of. Just because we aren’t yelling, doesn’t mean that everything is ok. In my house it was either screaming, or silence. There were no casual conversations, no dinner time laughs, we were all separate bodies barely co-existing. The thing is I don’t think my dad sees this at all. Sometimes I wish I could dive into his head and see how he replays scenes, scenes that I play over and over in my head and try to break down, burn, and forget.
It is terrifying to realize that some of the memories that haunt you the most, are forgotten by everyone else who was there.
Relating to people is one of the hardest things we are faced with in this life. Understanding when to let things go is something I feel we will all always battle with. For better or worse we all have our own egos to cradle and defend. Our own egos that get in the way of us saying: I’m sorry. The words of our parents ring in our ears without us even realizing. The weight of fights we had years ago sit with us. I can still remember the worst nights of my life. You can too. But it is what we do with those residual feelings of pain, how we finally figure out how to extinguish those flames, yet still realize that those embers may never fully turn to dust. Realizing that love is just as much the most amazing feeling in the world, and the feeling that will cause more pain than hate. It is the love we inherently have for our families that will break us again and again. That is. until we get right with ourselves. You are not always right, but you are in control of steering yourself towards what seemingly is.