Parents

27 Jun

I don’t write normal parents. Not that I write parental figures with seven limbs, or serial killer tendencies. I just don’t write “traditional,” functional relationships between parental figures.

Yeah, hi there Freud. I see you smirking over there in a corner.

The more I’ve written, the more I’ve come to notice about my abnormal parent figures. The fathers, for example – most of the time, they just don’t exist. My earliest stories, written in the big, round handwriting of an eight or nine year old, they just didn’t have father figures in them. The absence wasn’t a key component; it just was. Without explanation or ado. It was just the norm for my characters, something they didn’t think twice about.

Makes sense, seeing how for a very long stretch of my life, it was something I didn’t think twice about either. Business trips, golf trips, hunting trips, gambling trips, affair trips. My father’s presence was an anomaly, not a rule. I simply didn’t know how to write about present fathers. I had no material.

Mothers, however… Even before I hit puberty, they got a broader ranger of characterization. They were present, for one thing. Sometimes, they were caring. Or neutral, at the very least. NPC’s there for the main character to interact with, if not exactly salient actors in and of themselves. Other times, though…

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three pieces of writing with abusive mother figures in them. Around thirteen or so, I spent my nights angrily scratching out a story of a nineteenth-century, Sarah-the-little-princess-esque near-orphan girl whose central conflict was with a physically abusive mother. The narrative was basically F. H. Burnett’s novel boiled down to a purely familial relationship. The horrid school teacher became a sort of evil stepmother figure – minus the “step.”

Abusive mother figures have shown up again and again in my writing. Left alone to parent because of an inexplicably absent husband, they take out their anger of what life has dealt them on the children life has dealt them as well. They cause silence in their daughters. They cause their girls to withdraw and go insane. They yell. They hit. They degrade.

They are not my mother.

My mother has always been more of a passive victim, or inactive co-conspirator at worst, in my eyes. My worries around her have been of the protective sort. When it came to the battles between her and my father, my mother is always the one I have sided with. I have been frustrated with my mother, yes, but more for her inactivity. She has accepted my father’s maelstrom. She has not fought back. Even when I needed her to.

And yet she, in her many literary representations, is the one that I have made the abuser.

Perhaps it’s because in some way, I do hold her responsible. She didn’t stop my father. She taught me to shut up and keep quiet about it. She passed on a sense that I must just deal with whatever shit I’m served. That having someone and taking their blows, emotional or otherwise, is better than having no one.

Over the course of my childhood, I asked her again and again to do something about this father of mine. Tried to make it clear how it was hurting me. Hurting my younger sister. Hurting her.

Her response was largely to shove her head in the sand.

With the life experience and therapy and psychology education that I now have at 23, I can rationalize her actions. I understand victimization. I understand co-dependency. I understand the fear that leaving something bad will only result in something worse. I understand. I do.

But I think that growing up, and perhaps even now, some part of me still holds her responsible.

Why not write father figures that are abusive? Why not assign the blame where blame is more truthfully do? The defensive answer is that it’s my writing, and I’ll do whatever I damn well please, thank you very much.

The more truthful answer is that I’m not sure I could handle it. Not sure I want to have to handle it. I already dealt with one abusive father, thank you very much. Why would I create even more, in my writing? I have a mother that I love. That I want in my life. Even with all of her fretting. So even if I write a culpable mother figure in my stories, I still have a less culpable one to return to.

I cannot say the same of my father.

So much of writing is a sort of authorial wish-fulfillment. While 99% of my narratives barely involve a father figure at all, the 1% that do feature fathers that look nothing like my own. In a YA manuscript I begun writing at the the age of 14 and have been editing ever since, there is a father figure that I am fairly shocked by. He is calm and gentle. Scholarly and patient. Quiet and fiercely caring. He cares for both his daughter and his wife. He might disagree with his well-meaning but overly-fretful wife sometimes (the fictional mother who comes closest to my own), but he does not belittle her.

Ah, hello there, fairy tale father.

I find it somewhat comforting to know that in the narrative that contains the most real version of my own mother, I would assign her a partner much better than the one she’s got. Even with all of the frustration I channel at her through those other less-realistic mother figures, when it comes down to the “real” her, I would wish her more happiness than what she has, rather than punishment. I want better for her.

I want better for myself.

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