Family relations have always been difficult for me. My immediate family is not close. When mom and dad moved out of Kansas City in 1983, we all went our separate ways. I remember I felt a kind of relief. No longer were these people around to hold me back, tell me what I couldn’t do, insist that I act in ways that no longer satisfied me.
I relished my parents move. I looked forward to cutting all family ties. I was a sick person at the time and didn’t really understand that what I was doing would be in my best interest in the long term. Right then, I wanted freedom from these backwards-looking and parochial-thinking people. It was best that they move away. It left me to my own devices.
I reveled in my new-found liberties. I could drink and smoke when I wanted. I could date black and Hispanic women. I need not suffer the approbation and guilt my parents generated in me. I no longer had to conform to a regime of strict religion and reactionary politics. I could think and say what I whatever came to mind, regardless how silly or banal or base.
My parents and I talked only occasionally and only when they called me. I told them things were great. I was successful. I paid the rent on time and owned my own car (which I bought at a steep discount from them). I was in school and was earning B grades. Everything was just fine.
It wasn’t, of course. I had a rough go of those first few years of independent living. Very little in my childhood home prepared me for the adult world. I had to find out the hard way that banks don’t cash a check when you’re 25-cents short. I had to learn about boundaries and how to let people have their own space. While I wasn’t a messy roommate, I had to learn how to stay out of my roommates’ way and leave our collective living space free of evidence of me and my foibles.
All this comes to mind due to a discussion I had with my uncle yesterday. Since I moved out of my parents’ house, I have always been closer to my uncles than to my mom or dad. Their brothers became like the parent figures I never had. They taught me a lot about being grown up, and I gained much from their knowledge and wisdom over the years.
It was the only day this week with any sun. Bill and I sat down and had a long discussion over lunch. We told stories of our broken, sick homes and bemoaned the state of relationships we had with our siblings. He told me of incidents he witnessed in my childhood home. I told him of my relationship with his parents. And we laughed. Much of the material we covered was sad beyond belief. But we found plenty of humor in the absurdities of our situations. We shared a comradery I find only with my closest compatriots.
Then, we did the best thing anyone can do with me. We walked. We chatted and gesticulated. We shared even more stories and caught up with where we are today. We talked of writing and poetry and art. We found common ground in the struggles we face as writers. As the day moved forward, as we walked through the quiet neighborhood, we found ourselves inundated in nature and the things of nature. It was a most enjoyable outing.
Sadly, these things must come to an end. After three hours of commiserating and rejoicing with one another, we parted ways. I felt affirmed, something I never really knew with my immediate family. The rest of the day went peachy. I had a good nap. I wrote some and read some. The dog walk refreshed my insides and exerted some strength in my legs and back. I felt great.
Later in the day, I spent a few minutes thinking about my immediate family, my parents and siblings. It strikes me now how distant they are from me, but this is not a new phenomenon. They were always distant. It’s not like I ever found a confidant in my father or brother. I never shared a close relationship with my mom or sisters. We were all scratching and clawing in my childhood home. It was rank survival.
That’s not to say that my parents were completely inept. I think they were children when they started to build their own families. Cut off from the world or, rather, having cut themselves off from the world of adults, they hardly matured themselves. My dad used to be a big personality, huge. He filled rooms when he walked into them. He spouted his die-hard religious viewpoints and hard-headed conservative politics to whomever was around, whether they were listening or not. My mom was satisfied to support my father in both his skewed view of the world and his drinking habits, which continue to this day. They are a pair. God bless them for that.
My memory of home and those first few years away from home, as well as the relationships I share with my uncles and others turn my attentions toward my own family. Little by little, my daughter forges her own life and keeps me in the picture. She calls and comes by whenever she fancies. She’s welcome here and seeks our guidance when she needs it. We support her endeavors in life, education, and work. My son is now sixteen. There are whiffs of rebellion, but he’s finding he doesn’t have that much to rebel against. He has understanding and open parents. When he feels misunderstood, all he has to do is say so and explain what he’s going through. As long as he brings home the grades, he gets to do just about anything he wants.
The point is, I think, that we don’t discourage, slap down (literally), or discount anything the kids have to say. The daughter and son, despite an age difference of eleven years, have a loving relationship. Their relationships with us, Virginia and me, are about as good as we can make it.
My family, the one Virginia and I built, came out of lessons of how to be and how not to be. Sometimes those negative lessons are as important as the positive ones. Fortunately, I know what I don’t want my family to be. I can say, to this time, we have that kind of family. I hope my kids can pass it on to theirs.
Most important of all is that my kids talk to me. That’s not something my parents can say about me.