|Dad, me, Teddy, Mom
My parents are teachers – one by trade, one by practical application. My mom was an English and Creative Writing teacher, my dad was an Air Force Navigator, yet both instructed all of us (me and my three siblings) on everything from weather patterns (dad) to proper grammar (mom) to world history (both). But that’s not all. Even though two of my three siblings were sisters, we all learned how to play sports, cook, clean, and oh by the way, how to change the oil. I knew how to read a map and plan a cross country road trip by the time I was five – we were an always-on-the-road kind of family after all – we moved, traveled, and tripped through my childhood. I began setting my own alarm clock to get up for school in the First Grade and a few years later when my mom stopped making my school lunches, I started making hers. I often did my own laundry, I always cleaned my own room, and I budgeted my own babysitting, dog-walking, and soccer training money – not for new clothes or make up, although I did occasionally go to the mall, but primarily for soccer team dues and leisure books second. When I got to college, I knew things my friends didn’t: how much you should spend on groceries a month, what the average cost of auto insurance was, where Algeria was, when to say “who” and “whom,” the difference between the sound a C-130 or a KC-10 made, what a rose wine was, what tapas were, how to find a good realtor. Dad was the military man, but Mom could be a militant woman and we got discipline and tempers equally, albeit in different flavors.
Both of them grew up with (one or two) mentally ill parents; there’s no way to neatly tie that kind of past up with a red ribbon. They both made better lives for themselves, though. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough, because an alcoholic father who slaps you is just as bad in a child’s mind as an alcoholic father who throws you through walls. My brother and I were reminded of that more than once by my dad (as he spanked us until the backs of our legs, butts, and our hands that tried to block the blows were glowing swollen hot) that we were lucky he wasn’t doing exactly that – slamming us against the wall. But I was just a kid then, and that kind of stuff didn’t happen all the time. I didn’t go to school with black eyes. I didn’t have to wear long sleeved shirts in the summer to hide bruises. I wasn’t an after school special.
As my siblings left the house and I grew into a teen, the physical stuff mostly went away, but the verbal abuse took on a whole new life as my parents’ (life) unraveled. The things I think my parents mostly tried to keep hidden from us as children came out in one big sucker punch the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school. So, when my friends complained about “hating” their parents, I assured them, “no, you really don’t hate your parents.” I, on the other hand, really did hate my parents ….that’ll happen after you’ve had to call the cops on them for the third time because you can hear them slapping, punching, doing God knows what to each other, things crashing against the bedroom walls, and it’s the night before a big soccer tournament where you know recruiters are coming to watch and all you want to do is get good night’s sleep…or after the twentieth time your mom has lured you into the study under the guise of chatting only to slam the door and scream at you in thirty minute intervals about every addiction your father has, how many women he’s slept with, and how every nice thing you ever thought he did for you was somehow a lie.
I hated them both during those years even though I’d grown up a Daddy’s girl…but probably not in the way you think. My dad and I weren’t close just because my mom and I weren’t. Even though my dad traveled frequently for work, when he was around, we hung out: we played catch in the front yard, he gave me running work outs to execute, he watched my basketball and soccer games and did post-game analysis, and I talked to him about everything. He didn’t spoil me. He trained me. That was my childhood. Later, though, when I was a sixteen year old (doing everything right as far as I was concerned) – playing Varsity sports, getting straight A’s, a member of Math Club, Spanish Club, Honor Society, not doing drugs or having sex – I got yelled at every single day for one thing or another. Whether I was getting yelled at by mom because I talked back to her, or yelled at my dad for talking back to my mom, or yelled at by my mom about my dad, there was always yelling. I hated her for making me hate him, and I hated him for what he’d done to her.
I spent years detesting their very existence – not all the time every day, but at one point or another – for one very good reason or another, or maybe also because I was a teenager and they were my parents and I obviously knew better than them about everything already. So, another thing I knew in college that others didn’t (I think, anyway) is that you can’t tell your story to everyone and use it as a crutch. You can’t blame your parents for your bad behavior or explain away bits of your personality you don’t like because of your upbringing. I knew everyone had baggage. I knew everyone had a story… and it was up to me to make my own.
*even though I made a “disclaimer” yesterday, I feel the need to underscore this fact: I love my parents dearly. They worked through more crap than the average person ever deals with and stayed together and stayed my parents. They are not perfect, but sometimes they work damn hard at making themselves “better,” and I respect them immensely for doing so…along with all of their other life accomplishments (which are many).
out to dinner in Twentynine Palms, CA
two days before my first deployment to Iraq