bio-Father’ Ghost

The day of his funeral or maybe the day before all the drama that was to come, I lay down on my bed in the bedroom off the basement rec room. Dad built that bedroom around me when I moved back home when I separated from my husband.

Dad’s chair was in the rec room. He spent 23 years sitting in that room watching TV. I’d spent a good portion of my teen years in their with him. Today when I picture him he is sitting there in front of the TV or out on the deck rocking, thinking as he liked to do. I tried asking him what he was thinking one time and got that, nothing, answer so I would look at him and wonder what thing was making him bit his lower lip as he did when he was upset.

So I’m drifting in that mellow sleep before and I start up at the clear sound of his voice calling me from the rec room. He’d do that because I was handy, being so close. I started up, and sat there a moment, got up and went to the door. I put my hand on the knob, then stopped. Oh my god, I wanted to go out there. I was terrified but I still wanted to go there. Being in that half sleep I stood there with the pull of his voice in my heart and the rational part of me rearing up. Finally, I let my hand drop and I whispered to him that he had to go. It wasn’t that he wasn’t passionately loved or desperately wanted but because it was time. If I went to him he’d have trouble doing what he had to do and so would I. I literally feared more for him. For me I’d have risk it but not for him. I knew he had to go.

I sat on my bed and weeped tears that needed to be shed. Over the years I’ve thought about that. Reason tells me he wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t. But what would have happened if I’d gone to his call? I wonder if anything would have changed. What if . . .

I was so rich to have grown up with his loving, steady presence. He is much of the reason I’m alive and only normally crazy. I had said everything I ever needed to, to him. There was no unfinished business. There are regrets that I didn’t accept his invitations to things like riding the brand new Metro, the DC subway, the day he went. He was all dressed up in a suit and tie for the event. I was too lazy to get dressed and didn’t realize the point wasn’t riding the Metro but doing it with him. Another thing I wish I’d done is to have gone to see Superman with him. I was sleeping and he called me from upstairs phone on my new bedroom phone to invite me. I didn’t want to get up, I wish I had. There is now a whole string of things attached to Superman, Christopher Reeve, falling off horses, and back injuries of one sort or another. These are the treads between the anchoring strand.

The web of life is a marvel and my parents are anchors without which the whole would crumble. In many ways I’m lucky and even with the hard parts I’m content. I was loved by a father who was with me from the day I was born to the day he died. Some threads are more durable than others, his was the strongest and still is.


bio–Mother’s Days

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Page 1 is Life-A Work In Progress 
.....(find next in order)

Parents are myopic. They see only what is right in their face after it filters through their hearts. Being a teacher of other people’s children is a totally different set of lenses. Any parent knows kids are not nice, they are not kind, they are not smart about things like money and friends. That is why they have parents.

Offspring need training in both the skills of survival and as social beings, how to be part of the “group.” The most important thing parents give kids is a balance between trusting themselves and trusting others. If young people haven’t learned to trust others like peers, parents and teachers then they have a horrid time with relationships. They have trouble working and even playing with others and romantic relationships can’t thrive without trust. If children don’t learn to trust themselves to solve problems or have good judgement they are really unable to do it. Their decisions are default decisions because they don’t see themselves as able to know what to do and often they hold a low opinion of their skill.

Of course there are the parents who go too far and never let the kids learn from their mistakes, they do as someone said just today, they smooth the road all the way to adulthood and then don’t understand why their kids can’t stand on their own two feet. Consequences are the learning tool, mistakes are the environment for the learning. They think someone else will fix things so they never become truly independent adults. All their failures will be blamed on something outside of themselves because they never learned the base lesson of personal responsibility.

The wisdom of the day when I was born was Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, in which he said that children learn by example, you don’t have to push your kids or tell them what to do. He later retracted that and deeply regretted the anguish that advise caused so many parents and children. My parents had the philosophy that children knew what was right or wrong, you just corrected the wrong stuff because they should know it’s wrong. So my sisters and I only heard about the bad stuff. We never knew if we did things well or right. We never learned to trust ourselves, we lived never quite sure what was expected of us. To top that off our mother was inconsistent in what was going to piss her off. Some things we had no doubt about but often times she just came out of the blue at us.

One of my earliest memories is of my father telling me I had to do as Mother told me to do. My reply was that I didn’t want to do what she said, because she was mean. I had to have been about 3 years old then. I remember she put in the closet when I was bad at least a few times. I remember having screaming fits at her. We just didn’t hit it off from the beginning. In retrospect I suspect there was what is called these days, a failure to bond. I suspect the foundation of the problem was that I was a very independent, ADHD kid. My memories fit the classic pattern of non-stop movement, real smart, being called bossy, more comfortable with adults than kids, problems getting along with kids at school. When I was 40 my father died and it was at that point that she and I managed to establish a more loving relationship. Up until then we had built up so much anger, fear, and resentment towards each other we could hardly share, it usually ended with both of us upset. I think I heard, “I resent you so much,” as often as any other statement of feelings from my mother. Mothers really shouldn’t give in to the desire to yell, “I hate you,” at their small children no matter what they have done.

At one point a few years after after Dad died I asked her when she knew she hated me. Without a pause she said, when I was 18 months old. I was blown away by that answer. It came so quickly she had obviously asked herself the same question. She didn’t deny hating me as I kind of expected her to do. My reaction wasn’t surprise but gratitude because, if I was that young it couldn’t have been my fault, even if it was about me, which I’d suspected all along. She was supposed to be the grow-up. I had never been able to understand what I did that was so wrong that she hated me when I was so little. It had to be about who as much as what I did. It was more than just me being a willful, hyperactive child who was too smart for her own good, it was that she didn’t expect and didn’t know how to mother a child like me. This just wasn’t what her child was supposed to be like. It was about her as much if not more than it was about me. If her kids weren’t perfect it was a reflection of some failure of hers and she was much about appearances. It never seemed to strike her that she might need help coping with me. It was all on me to change.

I would tell her fantasy stories to try to get her to approve of me about how I had friends and did this or that with them. She just thought I was crazy and at 8 she took me to a child psychiatrist. That was in the days when psychiatrists actually treated patients as therapists not just as pill pushers. I saw Dr. Olshaker for maybe a year, maybe less. The last time I saw him was the time when he met with my parents, I assume to talk about my treatment. I have always suspected Mom didn’t like what she heard so pulled me out. I recall she was mad when we left that day. Years later, when my dentist recommended I get therapy for stress because I was grinding my teeth at night, she said she wasn’t happy about it as she was sure they would put the blame on her. I figured that what what she was told by Dr. Olshaker all those years before.

Now in my late 60s, and she has passed on, I am working more diligently on the legacy of what she gave me. I am shocked at times to see my mother move my hand, or say something, or I see her in the mirror. We eventually came to a fairly comfortable relationship but not anything near the ideal mother/daughter relationship. I couldn’t confide in her or trust her to really care deeply what happened to me. It was enough that I could honestly say “I love you,” without thinking caveats. She specifically told me she really didn’t want to hear my problems. Of course we did talk about some on a superficial level because as a teacher, school was my life and as a teacher, the system was my problems. But I didn’t seek her advise and she really didn’t offer any, just some sympathy, which was probably good.

I don’t think I would ever have been ready for much advise from her, I never have believed she actually understood me. She and I were so very different in our approaches to life and politics. She was poor listener and that was one of the “problems” between us. I wanted a mother who understood me and wanted me happy. She wouldn’t listen to me. She’d hear my words and then try to tell me how I felt or what I meant by what I said. It infuriated me. How could she every know me if she couldn’t listen to me. It always seemed that any time I tried to talk with her, it always got turned to what she wanted to say, what she thought, or what she believed. It didn’t matter that I had gone to her for help with my thoughts and issues. She seemed to always turn so that it was really about her, not really about me. She was so much less than helpful. I felt so isolated. As much as I loved and trusted Dad, he wasn’t any real help in the daughter’s problems department. When I did try to talk with Mom I suspect that I was so defensive I really couldn’t listen well to what she said. She made me so angry with no place to spend it. She cared to little about me. When Dad was there I’d just go hug him and cry, I resented her so deeply. In retrospect it was probably a bit of a set-up, I looked for her to do the things that reinforced my beliefs about her. If I let my guard down and tried to talk with her, her first slip-up would close me off in a flash.

Mom was very social and liked to have parties. My sisters and I were the help, and at times she treated us with the same distain she had for all servants. She ordered us around and if there was an empty glass that needed to be filled she’d be haughty in commanding us to do our jobs as “hostesses.”  Of course clearing dirty dishes, cleaning the kitchen, and making sure everyone had their after dinner coffee and drinks was our job. I liked the parties but the way she treated me in front of her friends took a lot of the pleasure out of them. I didn’t mind helping but in her cups she’d say awful things about me. She did it in front of company or to people at these parties she gave or the family went to, just to embarrass me. She even admitted to intentionally trying to humiliate me.

What saved me was the very thing that made Mom so upset, that I was totally me from the beginning. There was no artifice. I did what I wanted and really didn’t care what anyone said. I didn’t recognize authority that I didn’t grant, even as a small kid. That was the abrasion the turned into the wound of resentment and hate. I wasn’t a tractable kid.

The greatest grace was my father. I have said often that he saved me. He taught me to love and to trust. He defended me to, and from Mother, he argued for me and really tried to find a way for the two of us to at least peacefully coexist. I was his favorite and I believe that made Mother resent me even more, that Dad took my side instead of her side against me. I was his first child and he wore his love for all of us on his sleeve, especially me.

Mom used the words “propriety” and “breeding” a lot as we were growing up. She wanted us to be the proper, sweet, perfect children in cute dresses and black patent mary janes a true Southern Lady, as she saw herself, would breed. Patti, who is 22 months younger than I am, tried to be perfect, sweet, and happy but could still never please mother. Robin, I’m not sure how she saw things. She never saw much advantage in being mother’s favorite but she would lord it over Patti and me at times.

One of the things mother did was to place on my shoulders responsibility for  anything that went wrong in the family. I was the carrier of the entire emotional life of the family including between her and Dad. She held Robin, who is 4 1/2 years younger than I am, up as the one to emulate. My opinion was, right, my baby sister is the one I want to be like? She seemed smart enough but was so ordinary and boring and totally self-centered. On Robin’s part, she accepted Mother’s judgement of me and blamed me for anything and everything wrong in her life until she was in her 30s. There has never been more than a blood bond between us. We never did learn how to be friends.

Mom always talked about how important family was but actually was the one who tore it down by pitting us against each other. She told them not to trust me, not to follow me, not to do what I did. I understand why she did that but the consequence was much broader than I suspect she ever really thought about until it was way to late to repair. In the end, a couple of years or so before she died we were talking about problems she was having with Robin and her husband who were supposed to be caring for her but weren’t. I was telling her what I was trying to put in place to protect and take care of her. She said to me, “I guess I was wrong about you.” I couldn’t say anything. I was grateful that she had come to that conclusion but it was so late in the game for us. There was relief in it but little joy.

Life-A Work In Progress

I’m attaching it here to TRY to keep the bio in order. It is next to impossible with the existing structure of this web site. This is a repeat of the separate entry in the top menu.

Page 1 of my bio

When I read something I really feel a need to know more about the writer. What biases does the writer travel with? How does she see the world? What loves/hates/frustrations/passions tint his life? So, in that vein I will reveal a bit of me.

I kind of want a space to talk about my history because it has so much to do with what I write. I don’t want this bio to be overwhelming and I am wordy so I’m breaking it into bits, I don’t know how many but some. This one is about the facts of my early life. It isn’t in any depth. That will

I was born in Oakland Calif as an early baby boomer. I am the oldest of the kids. I have sisters only, so no experience in growing up with brothers. My dad was a writer and in my early life there Mother was the classic housewife. She had gone to college with the specific intent of getting her Mrs. and after the war came (on the day they got back from their honeymoon) she became Rosie-the Riveter in LA while Dad was stationed in the Pacific. When Dad returned he started working in San Francisco as they spent the usual period struggling to save for a house. Dad had a degree so didn’t use the GI Bill for college, instead went back to work for the Associated Press, which he’d been “on loan” from, to the army during the war.

Two more daughters later Dad thought San Francisco was boring so asked for a transfer to Washington, DC, where the actions was, and it really was back in 1950. We moved here at the end of 1951. The image of Ossie and Harriet pops to mind. Mother took that for 2 years and had to get out of the house (apartment). There were many causes and I can’t speak to all of them or even the order of importance to her but no matter what mothers were supposed to do in the early 1950s, this Mother was going to work. She hired a maid to take care of us and the apartment. I have a blurry memory of being walked to school for kindergarten but really don’t remember much except the first few days I was in the wrong room and when I left I was sad because the teacher had a parakeet that I liked. I remember taking my kitten to school for show and tell, and naps, and liking school. I never outgrew naps or kittens or liking school. I suppose that is how I got to be an elementary school teacher. Or maybe not.

Mother had taught us to read as small children and she got into this battle with the principal at our school because the wisdom then was to leave teaching to the teachers. The other thing was that the school was taking it on itself to place us in special instruction for speech and I’m sure I was seeing a school psychologist. I suspect they thought I was being abused. I recall in 3rd grade being given anatomically correct dolls to play with. I am guessing the results of that was really why Mom pulled us out of public school and put us in parochial school. I went to a child psychiatrist about that time. At some point, I don’t recall how long I went to see him, the doctor had a conference with my parents. Mother was less than tolerant of opinions that she didn’t like, it didn’t matter who held them or how expert they were. That was the last time I saw him. Mother diverted the shrink money to my horseback riding lessons.

I come at life and faith through a lens of need. I was a lonely child, over weight, disliked by my mother, undefended as far as I knew by my her. I grew up saying I didn’t understand what the problem was. I was a nice person. Why didn’t kids like me? My mother told me it was because I was “fat” and bossy. Well, yea, and I also felt I was right. I usually was, which made me less than popular. I was in fact a rather classic ADHD kid. I was constantly on the move, jiggling and bouncing, talking non-stop and I was a bossy know-it-all. I suspect that was the core of the conflict with my mother when I was very small. She had no idea what to do with a girl who didn’t want to be frilly and dainty. No young girl was allowed opinions, and you didn’t disagree with your mother. I don’t think she ever imagined having to pull her daughter out of trees, yell about keeping shoes and clothes on, worry how it looked when all her daughter would wear was jeans and shorts. Were girls supposed to live on their bikes? I didn’t give her any options, I was doing what I was doing and I didn’t like her so I didn’t want to do what she told me. One of my earliest memories was a conversation with my father where he is telling me I have to do what Mother says. My response was she was mean and I didn’t want to do what she told me. I never really changed my mind and after while it became a reflex to resist her.

My dad was my savior and idol. He loved me as I was and that made it bearable even if it was more confusing. I was his first child and it was clear I was the apple of his eye as a small child. It was very important that my dad was there. I have no idea if I would have survived without his love and faith in me. I suspect he felt a bit adrift with all the females in his life. My mother was a hard woman to live with a lot of the time but I think basically they loved one another. They were a private couple, even from us. There was little hugging only the briefest peck between them in front of us. But there was lots of hugs and kisses between us and them, especially with Dad. We would throw ourselves at him to hug him and kiss him. We gave each other kisses good bye and even hello. But on reflection neither of them shared a lot of their lives with us, especially Mother. Dad was more open, talking about his childhood and war experiences. Mother talked a little but I learned more in one trip with her to Memphis for her 50th high school reunion than in all the years before. By that time we had reached a point of wanting to make things better between us.

Now my 50th reunion is this year. How strange to think of that. I’ve had next to no contact with any of Mom’s family since that trip in 1988. I never heard from them when Mom died a few years ago. Maybe they didn’t know at the time as I had no way to contact them. They had Mom’s address but they didn’t use it. When Dad died his brother and 2 cousins came for the funeral and stayed with us for a few days. The aloofness of Mom’s family kind of reflects the difference between Mom and Dad. We grew up without extended family. We are all the family we have.

We grew up in Maryland, for the first 10-11 years we lived in a townhouse style apartment. When I was in high school we bought a house and when I think of growing up it is more of living in that house than the years in the apartment. I had what I thought was normal childhood. Besides the running battle between Mother and me there was school. At first the nuns were intimidating but quickly became a focal point for me. I watched the way they talked quietly together. The way they put their hands up their sleeves when they were standing around. I wondered what the convent was like. I wondered how they became teachers, was it the same as the lay teachers? I wasn’t popular but I did have friends, the girls I hung out with at recess. I had one friend in 4th grade but she didn’t last much past that. There was something so alien about me that I couldn’t have real friends. But on the other hand I wouldn’t be picked on. I was big, 2nd tallest in our class, and I was a good 20 pounds over weight. I didn’t take any shit. I had no compunction about telling obnoxious boys what to do. I could face almost any of them down. They gave up messing with me because I mostly ignored them and if I wasn’t they would back down. It wasn’t worth the risk I’d get really mad about something.