By: Carol C. (Member of EASE Meditation)
My father finally died last month at the age of 92, after a long struggle. The struggle I am referring to was not exactly an illness, it was a struggle with life, with the world, with other people, even the universe possibly.
Ever since I can remember, my father was either angry or sulking about something. He railed constantly against everything that was different, or signified change or was a departure from the socio-economic norms that he grew up with. His value system was based on Victorian principles (because he was brought up with them). His life was extremely regimented, everything he did was ritualized. He loathed the English or Pommies, as they were referred to, Black people, Jews, Italians, Indians, the Japanese, the Chinese, Mexicans, Mediterraneans from Spain to Greece…. well pretty much anyone who was not a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant.
Ironically, his mother was a Russian Jew, which made him, technically speaking, a Jew. Once an orthodox Jewish friend asked my father if he was a Jew, to which my slightly outraged father replied “NO!” My friend then asked him if his mother was Jewish, the answer was yes, so my friend replied with a shrug of his shoulders “Nu – you’re a Jew”. We nearly die laughing every time we remember the incident.
He also despised people who drank weak tea, people who made weak tea, boys with long hair, any music made after the 1900’s, people who make scenes (show emotion of any kind), hippies, poor people, fat people, all my cousins, Westerns (as in movies), Catholics…..oh, I could go on and on and on. Being the child of such a person was challenging to say the least, both my brother and I were afraid of invoking his rage. My brother’s response was to become introverted and secretive, he also tried most of the time to be compliant in order to avoid my father’s rages. My response was to become more and more rebellious which of course attracted his rage and displeasure. I’m not sure why we responded so differently. I became obsessed with being independent, I rejected any form of authority my brother embraced being ‘normal’ and ‘fitting in’. Gradually I became the odd one in the family, the one who never failed to embarrass her family by being loud and too outspoken, I also for reasons you will soon read about didn’t believe in God or Father Christmas for that matter. Could I have been more of a nightmare?
Growing Up With My Father
I remember starting off being very enthusiastic about going to school, but of course I quickly realized that there wasn’t going to be much to be enthusiastic about. I soon began to protest when I realized how trapped I was, but to no avail. I tried lying in bed with my arms pressed to my sides so my mother couldn’t dress me, I tried looking pale and sick …. nothing , I still had to go.
Apparently I had an ‘attitude’, I didn’t actually know what an attitude was at first, I thought it had something to do with my height. When I found out what it meant I got very upset, I couldn’t understand why having an opinion of one’s own was so unacceptable, I guess I still don’t. Another interesting thing about my father was that for some reason he decided to send me to a convent (…yes under the care of nuns, Catholic nuns, just let that sink in). Luckily for my father, the nuns felt pretty much the same way he did about me, they couldn’t stand me. What they didn’t know was that he also despised them, and yet he gave his only daughter to be educated by them? In fact he reminded me every day on the way to school what useless people the Catholics are.
Finding My Own Path
Getting called into the Principal’s office for a daily lecture about how people just like me ended up in the gutter became a part of my routine, so did wacks on the hand (we were girls so it wasn’t appropriate to wack us on the bottom, that pleasure was reserved for the boys) and detention. There were many things a child could be punished for – being late for morning assembly, was one… one I never understood- why was I punished for my parent’s tardiness? My father believed that only peasants did things like eat before 9 at night and arrive on time. Consequently I was usually starving and/or late. Another, was wearing the wrong color elastic band or ribbon in your hair or having your skirt hem above the knee. In third grade I got carried away with my potato cut picture and filled up the whole page with stars – we weren’t supposed to do more than one row of stamps. Just one more black mark against me for not conforming
I suppose I was an annoying child, my teachers definitely thought so – still, did they have to complain so much about me to my parents at every parent teacher conference!? So school just reinforced my father’s low opinion of me and generally didn’t help in the struggle to survive my childhood. But it was a worthwhile struggle because I not only survived it, I learned skills that my father would never know about or even understand.
I smoked, I had sex, I tried drugs and I loved rock and roll. I thrived on public displays of affection, I fell in and out of love, and I took some chances I probably shouldn’t have. One memory I will always cherish is the time my Mom defied my Dad and secretly took me to see the movie Woodstock. I remember I loved the subversiveness of it, we were defying him….. and the movie itself was a revelation.
I am eternally grateful that my father’s weirdness produced such a positive reaction from me, otherwise I may have had a very, very boring adolescence.