Lately, I've been spending a lot of time talking to my therapist about my family.
Now, I'm not going to start publicly pulling skeletons out of the family closet. After all, let's face it. Most families are weird. Most families have their own issues. And most families are capable of leaving all of us with our own unique set of baggage.
Personally, I think I’m pretty lucky. I escaped the unique weirdness of my family with very little psychic damage.
As I think back upon my childhood, I realize that although my father was the strict disciplinarian who never hesitated to take off his belt and give us a proper whupping, it was my warm-hearted mother who forced me into all those embarrassing situations that caused the lion’s share of traumatic childhood memories.
Why was that?
When I speak to my friends, it’s clear that almost all of us were essentially raised by our mothers. Times were different back then. Even if both parents worked full-time, it was mom who always made the decisions. Dad was the working stiff.
In my case, my mother was a newly-arrived immigrant. Therefore, I'm not quite sure whether her cruelty stemmed from ignorance of prevailing social norms in America or a penchant for embarrassing the hell out of her children.
How else to explain the fact that she bought me a girl's bicycle for my
6th birthday? While all my friends were sticking baseball cards in the rims of their Huffy or
BMX-style bikes, I was cruising the streets in a sunflower yellow
banana-seat bicycle with a white wicker basket and a cute little bell out in front.
And did my mother really not know how to make a bologna sandwich or did she think it was going to be really funny to send me to school with densely-packed bowls of stinky Korean food?
Did she truly think that orange corduroy pants with bell bottoms and plaid vests were normal attire for 8-year-olds?
And don't even get me started on the haircuts! While our family wasn't always flush with cash, she certainly could have afforded the $5.00 to have my hair cut by a professional.
Instead, she always insisted on cutting my hair herself. Unfortunately, her home haircut kit consisted of a pair of meat scissors and a wooden bowl. She'd always finish and say "well, how does that look?" I'd say, "Looks great, Mom. Because in case my school does a stage production of Sling Blade, this haircut makes me look like Karl's stupider friend who couldn't get laid if his life depended on it."
"Now, where are my orange corduroys? I have to ride that girl's bike you bought me to my piano lesson."
I wish I could say that things changed as I got older but then I think about that time in college when my parents took me and my girlfriend out to dinner and my mother regaled her with stories about how difficult I was to toilet train.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love my mother very much and these are certainly not the issues that I've been speaking to my therapist about.
It's just that the whole process makes one realize that the mother-child relationship has always been a complex one, fraught with more ambivalence and misfires than American politics. Mothers can work a 30-years-gone umbilical cord like Roy Rogers working a lasso.
In some ways, the relationship between a mother and a child never changes, and that's because your mother still remembers when you were three and shoved all those Cheerios up your nose.
Do you know why cult leaders always force members to cut off all contact with their families? Because they know that their spell will be broken and all the mind control will disappear the instant you hear your mother saying, "And I suppose that just because your new thetan friends are hooking their testicles up to a cattle prod so they can go on the spaceship, you have to do it too, right?"
I’ve been thinking about all this lately because recently I’ve been
interviewed by several journalists and authors about how this
generation of fathers is so much more involved in raising their kids than previous generations of dads. While studies show that children benefit greatly from having their fathers involved in their lives, I find myself always pondering the impact of our increased involvement.
See, even though my wife and I work full-time, my hours are much more flexible. So frequently, I'm the one getting my daughter dressed for school. I'm the one cooking all of her meals. And I'm the one picking her up in the afternoon and taking her on playdates.
Holy crap, I'm like a mom!
If that's the case, I can only wonder how I’m psychologically scarring MY daughter.
Will she be ostracized at school because I always pack Japanese eel and rice in her lunch box?
Will she look at old photos and be mortified that I let her go to school in red tap shoes, green corduroys, and a Mets jersey?
Do you think she'll hold it against me that I like to kill two birds with one stone so I sometimes give her and the dog a bath at the same time?
Will my daughter grow up with a weird sense of gender dynamics because I sometimes yell, "Alright, kiddo. You're in big trouble now. Just wait until your mother comes home!"
I don't know. At the end of the day, I guess none of us ever know how our parents impacted us or how we're going to impact our own kids. Whether it's the mom who runs the house or it's the dad who stays at home, do we ever know exactly how much we're influenced by each parent? Like I said, all families have their own weirdness. And so I guess part of the fun is in seeing how it all turns out.
As Dennis Miller once brilliantly said, "Families keep everything in perspective. You can grow up, get out in the world, become a big success. You can control fortunes, corner the market, forecast financial trends, steer your company into the 21st century and beyond, but you go home to your family and you know who you are?"
"You're the kid who got tricked by his brothers into drinking a glass of pee."
Your turn now:
What's the most embarrassing childhood memory caused by your parents or family? Or what's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done to your own kid?
Special prize to the winner who makes me laugh so hard, I snort Diet Coke out of my nose!