Bill and I recently got into a pretty lengthy discussion about family dynamics that really got me thinking about my childhood in a more serious light given everything I have experienced up until now. It started based on his recent post: “The Old Flame“. We got into a discussion about the very American ideal that the manual labor generation works hard so that the next generation can go to college for something like engineering which allows the generation after that to attend college for something in the liberal arts.
I should be the liberal arts generation, or second generation even, but based on choices my Dad made, I am very much back to the manual labor generation. My Dad grew up very white collar, and made the cognitive decision to not work until I was 12 to stay at home with us as kids. But he didn’t actually do anything at home. So my Mom worked full-time at a bank as a word processor while my Dad slept in, fed us, and sort of watched us play outside. He didn’t do chores and he definitely didn’t make us dinner.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my Dad (I was daddies girl growing up). But I’ve really had some hard thoughts about him recently and how he has made my life harder. He chose to drop out of college and get married. He chose to not work. I love who my Dad was as a person, but if I’d been my Mom, I’d have kicked his bum ass to the curb if he didn’t get a job or at least do some housework.
This would have probably been fine anyway, had my Mom not died. My Mom was definitely the driver of the family dynamic and would have kept shit together like she always did. But then my Mom died and my Dad basically died with her.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my Dad busted his ass working 50+ hours a week after my Mom died. But he personally gave up. He went through the motions, but it was just because he had to. He did what he had to do to try and keep a roof over our heads and give us food to eat. Sometimes it wasn’t enough, but the majority of the time it was. Shit was hard. I spent time without a working shower, without heat in the winter, without a toilet that would flush on it’s own, etc. But he always tried.
But I’m mad. I made plenty of my own poor choices, but a lot of them I made out of sheer ignorance. I didn’t have a good role model at home, so while I was intelligent, I didn’t have the role model needed to learn the behaviors I should have. I dropped out of high school because I’d rather get high or drunk and ignore the fact that my Dad has given up on life and I have to emotionally prop him up. Why sit in class bored out of my mind, when I can just go hang out and ignore how shit my life is. Once I was 18 I had utilities in my name because my Dad couldn’t have them in his any longer and dammit I don’t want to go through another winter without heat.
Granted, I have clawed my way out of the poverty hole I was born into, but I’m mad because it didn’t have to be that way. I’m mad that because I didn’t have the role model I needed, I am still paying for having been poor despite having worked my ass off.
And it’s hard to think about my Dad like this because I love him. I know hindsight is 20/20 and it isn’t like he did this on purpose. But it doesn’t aggravate me any less. All I can do at this point is try to learn from his mistakes and keep digging. Eventually I’ll clear the hole I’ve been in, I just want it to be before I’m too old to really enjoy it.