Monday 22 April 2013

The unforgiveable crime of family

Every now and then, my life throws up "clusters" of meaning (or my brain turns it to meaning - after all, that's what plotting does - wrench meaning from random events). These are sometimes too random to spark a deeper interest, or even a blog post. Much goes on in my head that's just aurora borealis - impressions of colour, too ephemeral to make lasting expression beyond having been observed but fundamentally without much meaning.

A little while ago I met a reader and we ended up plunging some interesting family depths together. This gave me much to think about, but this review - really mostly the discussion around it - struck a chord today, so that's my blog post. 

Both my new friend and I shared an anecdote of a parent/grandparent telling us we weren't wanted and had contraceptives/abortions been available, we wouldn't exist. In my case (because I don't feel at liberty to talk about my new friend's experience), it was very clear to me from a young age that my existence inconvenienced my father. Essentially, he didn't want me, he never wanted me to live, and gods know whether he pressured my mother (27 years his junior) to do away with the impediment. I'm not putting it beyond him. All my mother's friends CONSTANT, mantra-like assurance "your mother wanted you so bad" and "you were all she wanted" makes sense. You don't tell that to somebody who has not been under threat by a potentially fetus-murdering father.

I may be overanalyzing things.

I also told that "black comedy" moment of yet another large family Christmas get-together going to shit - my family always congregated on Christmas to press each other's negative buttons with sledgehammers for a whole evening, and more often than not, there were shouting matches and old poison being dredged up from childhood ("You broke my doll! I loved nothing more than my doll!" - "Father always loved you most. Of course I beat you up when I could get away with it!"), and during one of those "Hell of Earth is Family" Christmasses, my grandmother roundly declared that if the pill had been around, "none of you would be here." (To her brood of eight children and at that point three grandchildren.)

Somebody essentially retroactively denying your existence - telling you you were a mistake, or an unfortunate development, that, given more convenience and access to funds/medical care/progress, you wouldn't exist at all is an oddly powerful shock to the system. Maybe part of the shock is a blow to our ego - our fundamental narrative that WE are the protagonist of our story, the dragon-slaying hero who'll free the princess, the lightbringer, the Chosen One, or any number of inner narratives that are fundamentally narcisstic and that get often mortally wounded somewhere around middle age, when no wise old wizard has led us to the magical sword and we left our parent's castle largely to be corporate slaves living from weekend to weekend, and we begin to suspect we're not the Chosen One but the Average Joe.

I can't yet make sense of it, and I can't pull all this into a conclusion. I'm absolutely in favour of people making choices about having or not having offspring. From that follows, obviously, that some of these choices might be wrong. A tremendeous potential parent might never have kids. A poor parent ends up with a stable full of them (my grandmother surely was an extremely poor, egotistical parent, almost a non-parent, since her brood was taken care of by nannies). But disclosing that we think it was a mistake TO the "mistake"? That's where I draw the line.

In any case, I understand a little better now why in my work I have so many father/son conflicts that often turn into extinction-level crises. It's me telling my (dead) biological father: "And fuck you--because I'm alive."

1 comment:

  1. Big hugs to you!

    This entry resonates very strongly with me and it also horrifies me that people can be this shallow and uncaring about how their words impact the ones they are about. No child wants to be told they aren't wanted or unloved.

    While my mother always tried to make sure that I knew that I was wanted, she also always made sure that I knew I was to blame for the fact that she couldn't have any other children. She had some complications during and after my birth and the doctors told her that if she wanted another child she would have to spend the whole pregnancy in bed which of course she (the self-styled martyr) couldn't do because she had a husband and a little child to take care off.

    She often worded it as a joke about my *selfishness* but still, it cut deep. The first time I told a friend about this, she was totally horrified and I didn't really get why. It took me a long time to work out just why these comments always bothered me so much and I think they still impact me a lot and I tend to write characters who take on blame for things outside their control.

    I find that writing can be very therapeutic for issues like that and I really like your attitude towards your biological father and how good for us all that he didn't manage to pressure your mom into an abortion.