Some people look back on their childhood as, ‘The best years of their lives’. I, on the other hand, hated being a child because I always felt caged and restrained.|
I disliked having to ask for things. I especially disliked being told “No!” without a logical or fair reason. I hated being told what to wear, when to come home or where I could go. When I was very young I hated not being able to reach things. I really hated sitting in the back seat of the car being told to “Sit still and shut up!” When visitors came we were sent outside to play. We were usually sent to bed when we weren’t ready or tired.
One of my earliest childhood memories has me standing at the gate with my mother’s voice calling from the house, “Sonya, don’t you leave the yard will you?” I was about three years old and I was wondering why I couldn’t go out of the gate.
My father and my big brother left every day. They both got to go out of the gate, but I wasn’t allowed to. People walked past, stopped, said hello and continued on. Everyone in the world seemed to be outside the gate except me. I just knew that exciting things happened out there.
I had heard my father talk about work and my brother talk about school. I had seen ladies pushing prams and carrying home shopping. I had been warned that bad things happen out there and, that someone might steal me if I went out there. I guess that I had been told that I would get lost and not know how to get home, that cars might run over me, and that dogs might bite me. I don’t know how I knew this, but I seemed to know it. I also knew that I believed that it was a lie.
One day I did go out. I noticed that the neighbour’s fence led to a gate on the other side of their yard. I felt certain that if I kept my hand on the fence I could walk as far as the gate at the far side without getting lost. I played it over in my mind until I was sure that it was a good plan. It worked! I went all the way to the other side, turned around, and with my fingers lightly touching the fence palings, I made my way back.
I think that this memory has stayed with me all of these years as it was probably one of the most significant days of my life. For me, it was the day that I discovered that I was my own little entity. I discovered the ‘Nature of the Beast’ that I was to become. I had discovered freedom of choice and independence. It was probably also the day that my parents’ nightmares began.
My father used to refer to me as, “A bugger of a child”. I couldn’t wait to get to school, yet by the third year I was pulled into the headmaster’s office for truancy. I had my little sister and an older friend with me when we were caught.
My mother was embarrassed that my sister, who was only six, was labelled the youngest kid to ever wag school. Not only did that embarrass her, but she learned that we were all sitting at my friend’s house with our faces covered in make-up, wearing high-heeled shoes and smoking cigarettes.
By the time I reached high school, I had had enough. The teachers considered me to be something of a delinquent and I thought that they were ‘screwing with my mind’. I had a smart mouth, a bad attitude and I was headed for trouble.
My parents later confided that they thought that I would give them a nervous breakdown. Honestly, I was a bugger of a kid, I was head strong and rebellious. I challenged all forms of authority and I just would not allow people, regardless of rank, to control me.
I used to lie in bed at night and say to my sister, “Who are these people?” referring to our parents. My sister was my kindred spirit and I could tell her anything however, my parents were a ‘Whole different kettle of fish’. We decided that we had been adopted at birth and for the time being we would just have to accept these ‘Aliens’ that we lived with.
I spent most of my adolescence screaming, “I just want to be free!” I often ran away from home until the legal age of sixteen when I finally packed my bags for the last time and left.
My father was scared and the more fear he had the more controlling he became. The more controlling he became the more rebellious and outrageous I became. My father believed effective parenting required discipline. His idea of discipline was to belt me with a strap. He would yell so loudly and angrily that the veins around his temples stood out, his face became bright red and his eyes looked like those of a wild animal.
I learned not to cry. Later I learned how to scream back and hit back. For many years we were at war.
My father was not a bad guy. He was charming, gentle, talented and a lot of fun. He did not drink, smoke or womanise. Most of the time, he was a really likable person. I was not blameless either. I certainly provoked him and definitely required some guidance. My father had a huge problem with fear and stress that manifested itself as violence. For many years I felt confused about this relationship, as it was both loving and violent.
A father-daughter relationship is extremely dynamic. It seems common and understandable that many women marry men similar to their fathers. It turned out to be very fortunate for me that I was rebellious, as I was able to move on without any permanent damage. Neither my sister nor I have ever been in violent relationships and we’ve never hit our children.
Miraculously I made it through childhood alive and intact. Adulthood suited me so much better. Once I had my independence I managed to level out. I had raced through my childhood trying to be older than I was. But as we all learn when we get there, ‘Adulthood requires maturity and experience’. You really can’t just jump there.
Over the years, we re-grouped and became a close-knit family. Ironically, my father and I had a lot in common when the playing field was level. By the time he was forty; he gave up his stressed-out lifestyle, and bought a farm on the North Coast. He found part-time work as a musician, joined a church, remarried, and had a new family. In short, ‘He chilled out and reinvented himself’.
Most of the time we all got along fine, but on occasion something would come up and a button would be pushed. Many, many times I confronted my father and demanded answers or apologies about something that I remembered. I often brought up instances from my teen-age years and with my articulate, sword-like tongue, I would slash him to pieces.
He would be mortified and deeply wounded. We went on like this for a few years as we, ‘Work-shopped our relationship’. The day did come when we had processed everything and simply accepted that, “We all did the best we could, and with the limited knowledge that we had, in the time frame in which we lived”. Or, as Oprah Winfrey often quotes, “If we had known better, we would have done better".
My father was a bit of a raconteur so there were very few stories that we hadn’t heard before. If anything, we had heard the same stories over and over so many times that we would have known them verbatim, except that he was also such an exaggerator, that with each repetition the stories became bigger and more colourful. Still, we didn’t really mind, as he filled in a lot of family history and we knew him well enough to sort out the black and white version of his colourful tales.
A few years ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was told that, “He should get his house in order”. We were very fortunate to be given this warning as it prepared us all for what was to come.
In his final year I spent most weekends sitting or lying on his bed and we would talk. He had reached a point where he had accepted the inevitable, and as a Christian his beliefs had him well prepared. I also think that his age, and the fact that his body was so frail, had him feeling quite comfortable with it all. He had time to do the things he needed or wanted to do and the opportunity to say what needed to be said. He was at peace with himself.
An interesting thing that I noticed was that his childhood memories became crystal clear. In the past when he referred to his childhood, he focused on what had happened, which is to say, he described events that happened. The difference now I noticed was that his stories involved how he felt about those events. During this time my father was not in control, he was not big and he did not speak with authority. His stories did not have a moral or some hidden advice. These were just the memories of a small boy, in a big world, trying to make sense of everything.
My father’s stories used to imply how much he knew, how brave and masculine he was, how proud he was of his ability to work and support his family. Things were always right or wrong, and he was the Patriarch and that made him ‘King of the Castle’. I always thought that he was sure of himself and I believed that he always felt that he was in control.
In his final year, through listening to his stories, I vicariously relived my father’s childhood with him as the child and me as his best friend.
I won’t go into his personal life stories here, but I do wish to share some of the things I learned about him during that year.
My father had never felt connected to his own father. He respected him and learned a lot from him, but his father had never hugged him and had never told him that he was loved.
Dad did badly in school and left at the age of fourteen to find work. His father had told him that, “He was too old to be supported and it was time to make his own way in the world”. He was frightened and alone as he made his way to a sheep station to work twelve hours a day, for not much more than room and
As a child he was humiliated and often picked on because he was much shorter than the other boys his age. He tried to use humour to gain acceptance and later took up music hoping that it would earn him some credibility or popularity with his peers.
As a young man, he became fed up with being bullied and learned how to fight. He found a job with a travelling carnival and became a boxer. He found, ‘Being a man’ very demanding, and learned at an early age that to survive in a man’s world he would need to be tough. He needed to compete and was always trying to do better, have better and be better. Eventually he learned to hide his insecurities and became an expert at being what he thought the world wanted him to be.
He was always very close to his mother. He loved her dearly. I also learned that year that his mother had come to Australia as a single woman of forty that
was probably scandalous in itself, as she would have been considered to be an old spinster) and pregnant with my father.
My father recalled all that he could remember of his mother’s early years. They were dirt poor and uneducated. The shame that she carried and the contempt that she had endured from those around her may have explained her protectiveness towards my father. His father was actually his stepfather. He was an older man that his mother had worked for and later married to give her son a name.
I remember her as having a lot of attitude herself especially towards ‘Class’. She despised snobbery as much as she despised the fact that she was treated as low class. In her later years she was a feisty woman. At eighty, she could still tear you to shreds if you offended her or looked down on her. She was a women’s libber long before anyone had challenged the inequality between the sexes.
Through these discussions with my father I found myself wondering about ‘The gene pool’. I guess that I had always believed that we all start out equal and then do the best that we can. I had always thought of our genetic makeup as influencing physical characteristics such as the appearance and health of our bodies. I really started to see the threads that link us all together and just how much our parents and ancestors create a personal template for who, what and how we are.
I’m sure that our genes influence our personality and psychological make-up as much as they influence out physical bodies. Perhaps emotional memory is also passed on genetically. Maybe things like phobias, past life recall and de-ja-vu are the emotional memories of our ancestors. I used to believe that our emotional make-up, personality and behavioural patterns were pre-determined by our childhood conditioning, environment, experiences and personal choices. All of these things and probably so much more make and shape us, but I now believe that who you are, how you are and what you are, initially come to you via your parents.
What I learned from these discussions is that our lives are really like a relay race.
When you watch a relay race the first runner starts out with a baton and races to the next person. That person takes the baton and races to the next and so it goes. If one person falls behind, then the next person will need to make up for lost time or the relay team will fall further behind. Ideally, there will be members within the team who will make up all of the lost time and lead the team to victory.
In life, we need to take the best of what we are given, we need to change what needs to be changed, and we need to improve all that we can. We all start out with advantages and handicaps. It’s not about how you started out, it is only about how you play the game and where you finish.
Too often, we get caught up in resentment. We blame our parents for what we consider to be our personal baggage. Too many people get so locked into their parent issues or victim histories that they never realize that what they start out with is not what they have to finish with. This game of life is about what each one of us adds or subtracts, and ultimately what we carry forward.
I thought about my grandmother and wondered how many generations before her had struggled. They must have had enormous obstacles and handicaps, as it seems to me that she started out with so few advantages. She probably gave the best of herself and all that she had to my father. I realize that she couldn’t give him anything that she didn’t know nor could she give him what she didn’t have. He could only take from her what she was. His challenge in life was to do better than his predecessors. He could do the things that his mother had done and learn through imitation, or he could add to the knowledge passed down to him and improve himself. Like the relay runner, he could pick up speed and give me a better chance.
When I wanted to know why my father did something in a way that seemed to me to be totally unacceptable, he would often respond with, “That’s just the way things are done”. I never found this an acceptable explanation. I noticed that many of his generation used that phrase. It seems to me that my father’s generation and all of the generations before him had a very strong mind set about continuing to follow the old ways, regardless of whether or not they thought them correct.
My father’s father used to strap him as a way of teaching him good behaviour. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” he would say. Strapping was also the punishment for bad behaviour when I attended school. We called it ‘Caning’ back then, but the principle was the same. These days we refer to it as ‘Child Abuse’ and it is punishable by law.
My father’s generation did not appear to question or challenge. My generation is probably the first to really challenge the old ways of doing things. The generation coming behind me has really turned things up-side down. The generation coming through now are asking all the right questions and demanding better solutions. If we all do away with blame, focus on our own input and take care with our choices, things can only get better and better. If we can’t forgive, let us try at least to understand and accept what went before.
For a long time, I resented many of the things that my parents did or didn’t do. I am now able to see that my father fought long and hard to pull himself out of the poverty cycle. For many years he must have been extremely tired and
stressed as he worked three jobs to support his family. He was not only driven to be a provider but also pushed us to educate ourselves. We went on to become self-employed and financially self-reliant. Our children have all gone on to higher education. He instilled in us strong ethical beliefs and reinforced the importance of self-esteem.
My grandmother had to overcome social status issues. I believe that this made my father an excellent communicator. We have no tolerance for class or race discrimination. My father’s controlling and domineering traits taught us to stand up for ourselves, think for ourselves and fight a good fight. If my grandmother was too far to the left, my father may have swung too far to the right. I believe that we have found balance.
I also believe that everything that I am today is a result of everything that went before.
Life’s relay is about understanding and accepting our parents. Like my father and yours, and all of the fathers and mothers before them, our parents gave us all that they had. It is up to us to use that and do well with it. Most importantly, we should not condemn the actions of our parents, but accept that all that we are comes from a long chain of learning, loving, hurting, trying and experiencing. Our task is to take the best of what they had to give and to add to it. Life is not about what your parents start you out with, but what you do with it, what qualities and advantages you add to your own life and pass on to the generations to come.
Copyright Sonya Green
Author Bio :
Copyright Sonya Green. http://www.reinventingmyself.com Sonya is the author of a book called Reinventing Myself, and also offer some Guided meditation C.D's focusing on Stress Reduction, Weight Loss, Healing and Personal Growth, How to get what you really want and need.
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