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.