Parents, we’re stuck with them, we’re born to them. They have dominion over us throughout childhood, which seems to last, if I recall, almost forever. Some are a mixed blessing; some better; some worse. It all falls into something like a bell curve, like most things. Thin at the leading edge, the saints; thin at the trailing edge, the real devils; and very broad in the middle ground, the more or less okay. They are our parents, and we are expected to love them, we are encouraged to love them. It can be easy, or hard, according to the evidence, and according to our temperaments.
Of my own parents, I can say that one was an active torment to me and the other was an absent disappointment. I had friends that did better, and friends that did worse, much worse in some cases. It’s hard to view these things objectively, since they are by nature extremely subjective. At some point we must make a choice, an adult choice, as to whether we will bear a grudge forever, or if we would prefer to be magnanimous, look at the big picture, and chose to forgive them their peccadillos and accept them for what they are: human beings with human foibles who probably did their best to discharge their responsibilities as our parents.
I’ve known parenting from both sides now, and I have observed a lot of parents and children on both sides of it, too. One thing is for certain: there are few, if any, perfect parents. Mistakes are inevitable, because we’re talking about human beings here. Real people. Nobody bats a thousand in the game of life.
Of my American friends, there were those who soldiered through the experience of having really awful parents, maybe only one, maybe both. Most of them have tried heroically to swallow their bitterness and keep it together, for the sake of family or for the sake of their own sanity.
Of my Thai friends, there are a couple of young people whose experience of childhood and parenting left them with such a comprehensive bitterness that they have taken the extreme step of changing their names and now live with the firm intention of never talking to those people again, or even thinking about them. I’ve heard the stories, and I understand their pain. Whatever it takes, brothers and sisters. It’s up to you.
There are those among my American friends who now speak glowingly on social media about parents that I remember as being less than stellar. Their love for their parents is very touching. It occurs to me that they have discovered the obvious truth at the center of the parenting phenomenon: one’s parents are a fact, a fact that nothing can change. That woman is your mother; that man is your father. Even death cannot change that. Their duty was to do the best that they could, and maybe it was, even if it that “best” was borderline criminal. Maybe our duty as their children is to forgive them their imperfections, and to accept them as the imperfect people that they are, that we all are.
I’ve felt for a long time that our duty was to our own children as well as to our parents. If we had difficult times with our own parents, the least that we could do was try to model some good behavior for our children and forgive our parents, and love them, and be good to them. In the hopes, you know, that our children will, in turn, forgive us and be good to us. That’s the dream.
I think that I have done okay in this effort, my conscience is clean. As an adult, and a parent myself, I did my best to bury the past and put a good face on it all. We visited with my parents frequently, and I called them often. I avoided all recriminations and tried to be unrelentingly upbeat. Frankly, I’d sometimes get off the phone with my mother and say to my wife, “when I die, I’m going straight to heaven, because I was nice to grandma.” It wasn’t always easy.
My sincerest wish is that someday my own children will find it in their hearts to afford me the same consideration. When they’re ready. We can all dream, can’t we?