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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This weekend was my father’s 65th birthday. It was good to see him reach it. He’s not been well the past couple of years. Going to visit my family is always an odd mix of happiness and depression. We don’t keep in touch regularly. My mother had a suffocating relationship with her mother, so she won’t call in fear that she’ll do the same thing. My brothers and I only talk about once a year. I talk to my sister every few months and occasionally get the odd call from my father when he feels like talking.

I’m the only one in the family that lives far away. My sister and brothers haven’t always lived close, but they’ve settled now in the area probably for life. I’m the only one in the family without at least a step-child now. We’re the incredibly shrinking family. Out of the four of us there are only now two surviving grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.

I always feel odd visiting because my family doesn’t feel much like a family. We’ll get together for a couple of hours and then disperse, as if we’re much more comfortable being apart rather than together. Although I lived in the Carolinas for 20 years prior to where I am now it doesn’t feel like home. Yet every time I talk about going there, it’s “going home.” I can’t seem to get past that expression.

My mother and father are still married, yet barely tolerate each other’s presence anymore. When I was very young I used to wish they’d divorce. Now I realize that divorce is much worse than I imagined. But still, they aren’t happy together and I wish they had a happier life. There’s a feeling of tragedy and chaos that surrounds all of my family members. I think I don’t visit often because I want to escape it.

But at that moment of parting it’s hard to leave. It’s hard to leave the one good friend I still have that I’ve kept in touch with over the years, someone I can still talk to like we did years ago after college. It’s hard to leave my parents and brothers and sister. It’s hard to give up that closeness that I could have if I lived there. And yet, I’m relieved I didn’t stay.

I don’t think I’d be a different person than I am now. I think I would have had the same sort of life. But maybe it would have been easier to see my parents grow old a day at a time instead of suddenly. Maybe I would have a family of my own right now, though I can’t imagine what kind of rifts that would cause. My parent’s fundamental beliefs would have clashed with my own wishes and the absolute certainty that they were right wouldn’t have allowed them to give up and let me raise my children the way I would want to.

My grandmother still tries to bully her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and maybe soon great-great grandchildren into worshipping her way even now in her frailty. We had a short disagreement about the soullessness of clones and I spent two hours trying to ignore Pat Robertson on television when I visited.

I used to think that there was nothing wrong with the way I was brought up, but when I remember some of the things that I missed out on I feel some resentment. I spent years in private Christian schools where I learned in a world apart from reality. We were scandalized by a teacher who believed in theistic evolution, a belief that probably led to her dismissal. Even in public school in my last few years I don’t remember if I ever had evolution in my curriculum.

I always thought it was a good thing that I was sheltered. My parents didn’t raise me to believe in Santa Claus because they felt it was lying, and yet I was terrified of demons that could manipulate my thoughts and gain control of me if I thought the wrong thing.

I’m glad that I didn’t go wild in my youth, but I wish I had grown up with a more realistic view of the world. Maybe children can’t grow up with true understanding. Maybe it takes maturity to grasp those concepts. But I still feel cheated that I grew up thinking that knowledge was the root of evil.

I still don’t know why I was able to pass into a different world view so easily. Sometimes I worry that my views are so malleable that I’ll embrace anything with a little convincing. I keep thinking back about the article I read about peer influence versus family influence on children. In a sheltered world where everyone I knew embraced fundamentalism how did I escape it? What was the difference between me and everyone else I knew from that time?

My parents prized a good education, and yet they rejected anything that disagreed with their religious beliefs. It’s a dichotomy that I can’t even begin to reconcile. They believe in conspiracies and all sorts of things that people would classify as crazy, and yet they are smart people. I can argue against it or ignore it, but I can’t relate.

I’m content with the person I am. I accept the past as part of what made me who I am. But it doesn’t change the fact that I feel guarded around the people that should know me the best. I fake feeling like a family along with the rest of them and then go back to my separate life.

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6 comments: to “ Home

  • The Exterminator
    Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 1:28:00 PM CST  

    OG: This is very nice, insightful post.

    It sounds to me, though, as if you really do feel part of a family. It's just not the family you'd like.

    That's not a unique situation. Your feelings are no different than hundreds of millions of others, myself included somewhere among them. Genetic kinship doesn't necessarily reflect itself in affection.

    I'll add only one more old-fart's observation: Your family can't bully you -- about religion or any other subject -- if you refuse to be bullied. That's hard to do, because we all revert to about five years old when we get together with parents and grandparents. But if you can, you should actively steel yourself against emotional blackmail and refuse to make the pay-offs.

  • mamacita chilena
    Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 9:56:00 PM CST  

    ok, for some reason, I commented on this post yesterday and it didn't show up. But that's ok, I'll just re-write everything and then add in the fact that you were also in my dream. WEIRD! You walked up to me in the middle of a huge warehouse and told me to started getting the boxes off the shelf. When I tried, they were too heavy and I was afraid the boxes were going to fall on me and crush me, and i looked over and you were lifting them as if they were nothing!

    Anyways, going back to your post...it made me really sad for you to read all this. I can't imagine feeling like that about my parents...but I do relate and understand some of it. My parents are divorced and my mom is remarried, and she fights constantly with my stepdad. there's always tension there when I "go home," (like you, I always say that even though it doesn't really feel like home). But I have a good relationship with my mom and honestly if it weren't for her, I don't think I'd be as happy of a person as I am.

    Religion really does make people believe crazy things. Sometimes I just cannot reconcile that intelligente people I know have such closed minded views when it comes to anything religious. It's like their minds are frozen in one specific way of thinking that they absolutely cannot escape. I'm sorry you had to be raised in that environment, but look on the bright side. Since you've felt how stifling it is to be in that environment you will probably take great care to make sure you don't make your own children, if you have them, feel that way someday.

    Even if you feel like you can't truly be yourself around your family, you have your own family now and a separate life. That's what happens when people grow up and for many of us it's separates us from our original families. Because of who I married and the things I believe (political beliefs) I probably won't ever live in the same country as my parents again. Because of who you are now and the life you lead and the things you believe, you probably won't ever be able to go back home with the same perspective ever again.

    Sorry for such a long comment. And I don't even think it's as long as the one I thought I posted yesterday!

  • ordinarygirl
    Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 5:54:00 AM CST  

    ex: I don't think it's odd that I don't fit in with my family, but I do wonder what it was that made me change and become different. Is it the generation I grew up in or was it subtle influences over the years? I wish I knew what made me open up to new ideas. I'd like to instill that in my children, if I ever have any.

    mama: Thanks for the post and especially for posting again! I have no idea what happened to it.

    I was feeling especially melancholy in the airport when I wrote the post (although I refused to pay $8.00 for internet, so it was just in Word). The whole time I was there I was missing Matt and wanting to go home. But when I said goodbye to my mom and dad it was so hard. It must be especially hard for you knowing you won't see people for a long time.

    And I feel a lot of guilt because my father hasn't been well for years and I'm the only one that can't be there helping on a day-to-day basis. And my parents really need someone to help them out. My brother has been incredible.

    But I live here and I help as I can and that's all I can do.

  • Nita
    Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 11:55:00 AM CST  

    I read this post from the beginning to the end, with great interest.
    I think I understand why you are different but ofcourse I may be wrong. I am only thinking of why I am different from my family. My family is religious and my mom is conservative and the way I turned out according to me was because of some sort of silent rebellion. I discussed this with my cousin once, why she was so different from her own parents (my aunt and uncle) and she said...rebellion!
    In my case I am sure of it because somethings just get my hackles up. Issues related to religion, societal values and the like. Even today on certain issues tempers fly...but the next time we meet and it's all forgotton.
    My parents live a few hours drive away and I visit often. I love them deeply and to me at least it doesn't matter that they are different. Being different, even widely different, is okay. It does mean that I can't share many thoughts with them, but that doesn't matter. I don't expect to.
    It's the same with my bro. He is different but it doesn't matter.
    What does it matter if you love one another and are there for each other?
    Blood ties are very powerful, I feel their power.

  • ordinarygirl
    Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 5:47:00 PM CST  

    Nita, I never really thought of myself as rebellious. There were some things for sure I rebelled against in Christianity. I didn't like being perceived as inferior or being required to be submissive just because I was a woman. I didn't like the exclusion of people due to differences in lifestyles from something as mild as smoking to divorce to homosexuality.

    My parents were very strict and although I didn't like it much as a kid I generally lived up to their expectations. I spent most of my life not trying to disappoint them. Disappointment was the worst punishment to face as a child.

    Although I think the religious aspects do have a lot to do with why I'm so uncomfortable, there are other things too. I moved away just a few months after my niece died and I left behind a broken relationship.

    My father had a stroke a few years later and he's never been the same. My parents, who always kept a clean house growing up, now live in total chaos. I feel guilty. In many ways I ran away.

  • Nita
    Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 8:26:00 PM CST  

    Thanks OG for sharing. It's very difficult to confront painful memories of the past, particularly those related to one's parents.

 

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