At least we're not like our parents


Peggy is afraid of grocery stores (also spiders and airplanes, including airplanes that fly over her head). Grocery stores aren’t usually a problem because I do the shopping. Two weeks ago, our friends Lee and Robin brought their new baby for a visit, and Lee also brought a pie he baked. Peggy decided that I should go buy ice cream for the pie, but I didn’t want to go. Because I usually would have gone, Peggy asked a second time before she knew I was serious, after which she went, and no more was said about it. This caused me to think about what would have happened had Peggy’s father told Peggy’s mother that he didn’t want to go to the store (or do anything else she ordered him to do, for ordered it was). Let’s just say that the festivities would have gone to hell in a hand-basket.

Peggy and I have always been fixated on me not being like my mentally ill father and her not being like her mentally ill mother, and if we’ve done nothing else in life, I think we’ve succeeded in that. To this, you might ask, “What would have happened had your mother asked your father to go buy ice cream?” We were seldom out of ice cream, and my parents never had guests anyway except for my half-sister Anne and her husband, Bill, so it probably wouldn’t have come up. If it had, my father was fond enough of Anne and Bill, that I think he would have gone, probably in Bill’s car with Bill driving (Dad’s own vehicle stayed dirty and every seat but his own stayed loaded with tools), but, generally speaking, Dad felt that he had to stand up for his independence to an extent that caused people to consider him unkind and unreasonable if not downright disturbed. I considered him all three. When things are really bad between us, Peggy and I can at least look at one another and think about how much worse-off we would be if we had married someone like the other’s father or mother.     


While thinking about my father just now, I remembered how he had spent his entire 85 years believing himself to be a woman trapped in a man’s body. For all but the last two of those years, he lived in the South, mostly the rural South, carrying within himself his shameful secret without knowing that anyone else had ever felt as he did, that is until one day during the ‘60s—my father was 56 at the time—when Life Magazine ran an article about a transsexual named Jan. I’m sad that my father waited ten years to tell me how that story—which I too had read—affected him, but at least he told me. If he had done like most white people in the South, he would have cancelled Life a year or two earlier when it started to portray the region as overrun with mean-spirited ignorant bigots (which was true, although they preferred to call themselves “Christian patriots”). If he had done that, he might have never discovered that he wasn’t alone, and if he hadn’t discovered that he wasn’t alone, he might have never found the courage to tell me about his transexuality, and I might have never been able to forgive him for the way he treated his family. Mostly forgive him anyway.

21 comments:

The Bipolar Diva said...

What a wonderful post! I love the picture of Peggy and the baby. My mom pretty much gave the orders in our house. I think partly because she'd basically raised her two younger sisters, and Dad was a corporate pilot, which mean he was home only 3-4 days a month. While lay on the shores of Montego Bay during the day, and chasing women at night, Mom was home, working full time and raising two good boys and one not so good daughter.
My husband's father was an alcoholic, as was mine. However, while when my dad drank he became funny, chatty and would tell us he loved us, Jeff's father was the opposite all the time, drunk or not. He beat his kids continually, leaving gashes, dripping blood and bruises. We both made the conscience decision to be different than our parents. I think we accomplished that for the most part. It's difficult, being that it's so ingrained in who we became, but we pushed it aside as soon as we realized what was going on. I made the decision early on that I would tell my kids "I love you," every day, and I had the luxury of staying home with them, something my brothers and I never experienced. When it comes to orders around the house, we've never ordered the other one to do anything. Oh we've had some rather "lively" discussions, but no ordering in, soon to be, 25 years.
I so admire your love for Peggy. It's inspired me and gave me hope in the darkest days of my life. You were there for me when hell tried to swallow me up. And your devotion to your wife gave me hope that Jeff and I could make it, we just had to try. Love you Snow, and always will.

All Consuming said...

I think you've both done a fine job at breaking that potential chain. I think it's important to decide if you want to emulate, to be, your parents at some point, because if you don't think about it actively, you will becaome them, usually anyway. You're a kind clever thoughtful man who is against violence and has the capability to make other people happy (just ask on here and you will see a host of 'aye's'). I don't know Peggy, but she doesn't hit you or abuse you and has kind beautiful eyes to boot. I'm glad you found, and kept each other. The people we choose as partners have a big part to play in who we become. x

Snowbrush said...

Diva, I so appreciate your comment. There are two parts our childhood, one being what happens to us, and the other being how we take it. I don't know that any of us ever really have a choice about what we feel, think, or do, but children certainly don't. They're like dogs in that they have a great capacity for joy, yet no power over their feelings and choices, and certainly none over what their parents do. BTW, I nearly doubled this post after you read it, so I'll hope you'll come back.

My thanks to you too, AllCon (sounds like either a gang a criminals or a pest control company-ha). Anyway...

"I don't know Peggy, but she doesn't hit you or abuse you and has kind beautiful eyes to boot."

You're right, of course, on both counts, but when she and I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory (I think it's called), she came out to the most violent of the 16 personality types "when frustrated." I told her on the spot that I would do my best to never frustrate her, and THAT has no doubt been the secret of our harmony. As for her kind eyes, I had a girlfriend (a post-marriage girl friend) who told Peggy the same thing, and Peggy later said, "I just wanted to hit her." Now don't worry, AllCon, because she won't feel that way about you, but if she does, remember that you are on the other side of the American Continent and the Atlantic Ocean, and by the time she got to England, she wouldn't be mad anymore. As I told Diva, I nearly doubled the size of this post (after the two of you read it), with all the new stuff being in the last paragraph.

lotta joy said...

As you're aware, my mom was a narcissistic woman with munchausen by proxy. The world revolved around what she thought she should have versus what she had.

Us kids avoided dad to make all of our lives better, his AND ours. How sad I feel when I think of my dad.

How sad I feel when I realize no matter how old we get, we still harken back to what our parents did or didn't do.

It makes me wonder how much of your parents would have shown up in you and Peggy if you'd had children. They seem to be the common denominator in all strife.

Stephen Hayes said...

You really had had a lot to deal with in your life, and from what I read I think you've done a fantastic job of navigating through some dangerous waters. I often think we give medals to the wrong people.

rhymeswithplague said...

I know from having read many of your past posts that this post is true, yet I found myself reading it as though it were a work of fiction, and I must say that I intenesely admired the way you crafted your sentences and put them together in such a way that it made me believe that what you were saying was actually true, until it struck me that it WAS actually true, and then I admired it even more. I hope you understand what I'm saying, because I'm not sure I do.

Thank you for coming over to my feast of Mike Nichols and Elaine May skits, and I do hope, as you said you would, that you will return to take in the rest.

kylie said...

so what are your myers-briggs types?

i think i have managed to evade my parents worst traits through an effort of will, although my family might say i am as eccentric and vague as dad......

i am sorry your dad had to carry his transgender identity so secretly for so long. we might have a way to go but we certainly are making progress

The Bipolar Diva said...

Yes, I came back. I'm glad I did. There may not seem to be a correlation in what I'm about to share about my experience with my dad and yours with your dad, but to me there is one. It made me think of when I went to an adult children of alcoholics twelve week type of thing. It took me through the entire range of human emotion. I was, lonely, sad, extremely angry, and more. It took feeling that anger, experiencing the anger I had toward my parents for the things that had happened for me to be able to see them for who they really were. They were two people that basically raised themselves. Both of my grandmothers divorced and both grandfathers were losers. What I came to realize, was that my parents did the best with what they had. They had no role models, my paternal grandmother told me she would put my dad in a play pen and go to work. Then the lady down stairs would come up and feed and change him every four hours. What a horrible life for him, it's no wonder he never could express he loved me until after my mother had been killed. But when I realized that they really did do the best with what they knew/had I was finally able to open myself to forgive them, and in return, it lightened my burden. I'm glad you shared that last bit.

Elephant's Child said...

I hope I have managed to escape my parent's worst characteristics. Sadly I think that some of the more desirable ones have also been lost.

I am very pleased that your father did find out (late, but not too late) that he wasn't alone and admire you for being able to (mostly) forgive his transgressions. Forgiveness is still a work in progress in my head. I have at least reached acceptance though.

Charles Gramlich said...

It is strange how our hands are dealt.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Ah... forgiving one's parents... the beginning of true adult-hood??? That subject has come up a lot lately as many of my friends are in the same place... dealing with elderly parents.

Kerry said...

If Peggy's mother ordered your father to do something...not good, huh?

Our parents' generation must be so full of people trapped in the wrong bodies. It just wasn't spoken of back then. So different now. At John's workplace a transgender person asked him this week if there could be a designated bathroom, and bingo, now there is one. A unisex restroom, single toilet, lock on the door. 40 or 50 years ago this could never have happened.

Deb said...

Hmm, very interesting, Snow. First question -- does your wife have agoraphobia? It's pretty common. I had it for years (still do from time to time) --- just the grocery store panic attacks - but as a face my fear of going through those messy florescent lit aisles, I realize it's not as scary as a place as I made it out to see UNLESS i trek into Walmart. Then that's just a whole other can-o-beans!! Yikes! O_O

As you probably have read through my past posts, I have many transgender friends - transgender females. It's a foreign concept to many who are not exposed to this "new" lifestyle that's been around since before Jesus. What really confuses many people (still confuses my mom as she meets all my transgender lesbian friends) ---- is that she says, "Well, doesn't "he" (and she says he) like other men? Why would he dress like a girl or get a sex change if HE doesn't like men?"

I CRINGE... (Just as you probably did hearing that.)

Anyway, many people confuse the fact that transgender does not have anything to do with sexual orientation. There are men that transition to women who like men. There are men who transition to women who like...women. And that's a sad pigeonhole of a rut they get stuck in. And I admit, I have learned a lot in the past 10 yrs of having friends who are transgender. For your dad to have felt that way for so long must have. been. complete. torture. And the fact that it was in the deep south --- ugh, I cannot even imagine the struggles she has had.

All I can say is this.. We're so unique and so special in so many awesome ways. I have had relatives with mental illnesses who have taught me so much more than some of my "normal" relatives. Did you know that being homosexual was once considered a mental illness about 50 yrs ago? (I think even less.)

I really thank you for having the courage to share this with your readers and giving us another awesome peek into your life.

Thanks, Snow.

Snowbrush said...


We've had dogs, and Peggy was the indulger who couldn't bear to discipline them, and I was the one who could.

"I hope you understand what I'm saying, because I'm not sure I do."

I think you're saying that you expect fiction to rise to higher literary standards than truth. In any case, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you wrote. I just hope you will never die on me because your passing would represent a terrible loss.

"what are your myers-briggs types?"

INFP on my first test and ENFP on a second that was taken years later when I was more socially active. I don't remember what Peggy's results were, but that a majority of nurses score as she did.

"when I realized that they really did do the best with what they knew/had I was finally able to open myself to forgive them"

Yes. It looks like it should be so easy for another person to act better when I don't know what demons they're struggling with.

"First question -- does your wife have agoraphobia?"

She's not afraid of open space if that's all it means. I too have a fear of grocery stores, in my case because of the extra-bright lights and the crowds, but I'm the designated shopper, so I have to deal with it, and Peggy can too when she has to. One thing that scares her is paying with a credit card. She rarely has to pay for anything herself, and she's intimidated by the scanners. Given that she's a nurse and has to work with all manner of high-tech equipment, this strikes me as very odd. Anyway, she never buys a lot at one time (I do that), so when she does go, she pays with cash. Another problem is that she's not used to the layout, so she has trouble finding things.

Snowbrush said...

"There are men that transition to women who like men. There are men who transition to women who like...women."

This makes sense, but I had never thought about it. I know that my father had sex with men and enjoyed it, so he might have very well been one of the former people in what you wrote.

"I have learned a lot in the past 10 yrs of having friends who are transgender."

I've never had one, and I don't even have any gay friends at the moment (face-to-face friends, I mean), but then I don't have many friends at the moment, having become a near recluse since the pain started some years ago. My father liked to wear women's underwear beneath his striped carpenter overalls, so some people have assured me that he was a transvestite. I know that he was a transexual, so although he dressed like a transvestite, his motivation for doing so was different, so I don't know if he would have been considered a transvestite and a transexual or just a transexual. I first discovered that he wore women's underwear when he fell off a ladder at work one day and knocked himself out. Mother made it to the hospital almost as fast as the ambulance, and ran every out of the room so that she and I could undress him. I had no idea why she did this until I saw what he was wearing, but it was never spoken of until a few years later when he told me about his transexuality. He never told my sister about it, saying that she wouldn't understand. Well, I didn't either, not really, but from my earliest memory, I was attracted to people who were "different." This was a little crazy-making when the people I was drawn to represented warring factions. For example, the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan. I recall being intensely curious about both because both represented romance and idealism.

"Did you know that being homosexual was once considered a mental illness about 50 yrs ago?"

Yes, I do remember that it was considered a mental illness. The American Psychiatric Association changed its designation from a mental illness to a normal sexual variation in 1973.

"I really thank you for having the courage to share this with your readers"

It's not courage so much as the discomfort of disclosing someone else's secret, and not just to a trusted friend, but to the entire world, at least theoretically. My policy (as it were) about sharing things about other people is that: I don't share things that living people have asked me not to share; I never try to make anyone look bad but rather to portray my honest impressions of what they were like and what they said and did, whether for good or bad; I'm very careful about sharing things about one person that might hurt another person. Yet, inasmuch as other people's lives have touched my life, their story becomes my story, and I have a right to share my story.

Snowbrush said...

"I hope I have managed to escape my parent's worst characteristics. Sadly I think that some of the more desirable ones have also been lost."

I can relate. I know I'm now strong as my father physically. At my current age of 64, he could still put in a hard day's work. I worked for four hours in the yard yesterday, came in so exhausted that I needed a nap (which I couldn't get because of the pain), and had to drug the shit out of myself to sleep last night. As for mental toughness, I don't even know if I'm his equal in that. I look at his life and wonder how he could bear it. I know it was hard for him, and that he was miserable much of the time, yet he persevered in living an ethical life and doing his best to support his family so that his children wouldn't have it as hard as he did. For instance, Dad grew up in houses so dilapidated that he could lie in bed at night and see stars through the roof, and he supported himself by doing hard physical labor from the time he dropped out of the 8th grade.

Deb said...

Well, it must have been a confusing time for all involved. There are so many labels you can smack onto that -- cross dresser, transvestite, transgender --- these terms are more often than not "offenses" to some, which is why I tiptoe around my friends who are transgendered. One of my friends who is an "MTF" lesbian (male to female) -- this is a "man" who is taking hormone replacement to appear and feel as a woman pre-op. The hormones are driving her NUTS. And I always remind 'her' that when I'm PMSing or my estrogen is in full force --- watch out. It's not easy being a woman as some "men" think it is. The hormones that they undergo can cause such grief and pain to them and their loved ones around them --- causing major conflict. Ok, I'm totally sidetracking here. In any event, I don't think by your sharing this story makes it 'wrong' in any way -- it was a great insight and it must feel a little liberating to share that with all of us who read you.

I'm sorry you had to go through all the confusion you went through in life. It must have been very challenging. Now, I hope that your pain disappears for good! Physical and emotional. :)

rhymeswithplague said...

At least you knew your father. I had the shock of finding out in my early teens that my father was not my father. So the person at whom my early hate was directed wasn't even a blood relative. I don't know whether that made it better or worse. Mama died when I was 16 and Dad/not Dad died when I was 25. I never knew my bio father. It took a lot of years to work through everthing, all without benefit of professional help. This is yet another reason why I am the way I am.

Snowbrush said...

"I hope that your pain disappears for good! Physical and emotional. :)"

I'm probably stuck with physical pain. I'm just hoping I can somehow manage it so it won't get any worse. Once I start working, I push the limit until the pain gets really bad and then I have to start another period of recovery. I know I do this, yet I can never seem to see it coming because every time I feel better, I think that, this is it, I'm normal again.

As for emotional pain, I'm enjoying this period of my life fairly well--not great but well enough. For example, there are few things that bring more peace than not taking things personally, and I have become increasingly better at that over the years. A refusal to take things personally is what enabled me to go to that church last year. I can say in retrospect that I wish I had behaved differently in some ways, but I did my best, and the fact that some of those people probably have hard feelings against me doesn't make me feel guilty. It would be easy to assume that the majority meaning the people I was closest to) were right and I was wrong, but as I see it, it was partially a clash of personality and character, but it was moreso a clash between two very different ways of thinking about life.

I also feel happy about having survived so many years with pain. I used to worry that the pain would get so bad that I couldn't bear it (and it seemed to come really close to that at times). Now, I realize that I'm tougher than I used to think. I'm even shifting in my acceptance of death. You might find it odd, but I see this growing acceptance as having come from having, over many years, given up any hope whatsoever that there is something or someone "out there." I could be wrong in my nonbelief, and I even hope I am, but I'm quite convinced otherwise.

"I had the shock of finding out in my early teens that my father was not my father. So the person at whom my early hate was directed wasn't even a blood relative. I don't know whether that made it better or worse. Mama died when I was 16 and Dad/not Dad died when I was 25. I never knew my bio father."

It was clearly a very sad environment for you, and I wouldn't want to trade you for it. I sometimes think of all the children who, at this moment, are having hellacious upbringings that they will spend the rest of their lives thinking about with sadness. Peggy sees them at work all the time, and all the years of sadness have added up until she's ready to be done with it.

"This is yet another reason why I am the way I am."

Beats me.

Zuzana said...

I am like Peggy - afraid of planes. Luckily not grocery stores.;)
But also at times planes that fly over my head.;) In fact, until a few years back, my reoccurring nightmare was about a plane crash: I saw it happen and was trying to outrun the falling machine.;)
On the other hand, unlike Peggy, I notice that I am slowly becoming more and more like my mom.;) Well, luckily, I love my mom and her traits, so maybe in my case it is not such a bad thing.;)
Have a great week ahead.;)
xoxo

The Blog Fodder said...

I am glad you father found out he was not alone.

Seems to go one of two ways; either we never want to be like our parents or we try desperately to emulate them. All my life I tried not be be like my father. He is 11 years gone and I don't know if I have forgiven him or simply accepted that is how he was.