He was angry, bitter and probably correct: his parents had not raised him well.
I immediately thought back to mine: the arguments, the misunderstandings, the fights, a divorce that left my mother psychologically scarred and inspired my father, a general lawyer, to specialize in matrimonial law.
I outright rejected my father as an adolescent, and he did his best to endure that. When I wanted to take some time off from college to learn about the real world, he told me he that I was a failure and that he was disinheriting me.
My mother thought people were spying on her. She imagined schemes in which neighbors and even people she never knew, might want to cause her harm. When some jerk who had just been released from prison pushed the door open into her house, pistol whipped her and stole her car, her worst dream came true. The police found the car and put the jerk back in prison. The horrible bruises on my mother’s face heeled. The psychological injuries persisted.
I didn’t know how to respond when my father lost his mind. I cried, but crying wasn’t good enough.
I tried to endure my mother’s dysfunctions after a stroke killed off portions of her brain. It wasn’t easy. We had moments of comprehension, but these slid away into confusion.
While they were alive I had a long list of grievances about how I should have been raised. I went back to this list every time something in my life didn’t work out the way I wanted.
When they became like children again, I was frightened: could I turn out this way, too? If only we had a different genetic heritage!
And yet, some of that heritage isn’t so bad. My father got his first tooth cavity in his 50s. I have never had one. Dentists tell me that this is due to the ph of my saliva. I don’t get cavities, but I am prone to gum disease.
So far, no teeth have fallen out.
And there’s the fact that my mother encouraged me to write. She thought that reading books makes you superior. Having read zillions of books since then, and written a few, I’m aware that “shelf respect” doesn’t make you any better or worse than anyone else.
But it was nice to have an important person on my side.
Sooner or later you must accept that you are embodiment of the best of your parents. Yes, there is a lot of other stuff you can chafe about, but, ultimately, you were given as much of the good stuff as possible. So be grateful, and build upon that good stuff.
It is both comforting and necessary to see yourself this way. The comfort is obvious: we all want to feel we’re made of great working parts, even if the parts don’t always work the way we would like. The necessity is that dwelling on your parents’ shortcomings tends to make you dwell on your own.
My mother talked more than she listened. She could not get past much of what had hurt in her in her past. My father had a sarcastic sense of humor that offended people. He thought being funny was enough.He liked a bargain to the point of annoying others. Both were performers who put so much effort into the impressions they made that they tended not to notice what their audiences needed from them.
I have these qualities in my character. What can I do about them? Not much. But I can be grateful for the other stuff: my mother was verbal, literate and highly imaginative. My father was a profoundly good improviser: he could think on his feet and talk to anyone. He was also an excellent provider who probably made many people happy in his law practice. As much as he liked getting things at discount, I always had good food and good clothes. He paid full price for my college education. Both could be generous in their own ways.
It’s vital that you learn that accepting them is the most important step on the path to accepting yourself, not as a person with strengths and weaknesses, or a guy of the best intentions who had good luck and bad in his life, but as a person of many, many gifts and talents, who has yet to discover and celebrate them all.
When I rid myself of the list of grievances, I discovered that gratitude has no limit.