I am so glad I don’t have to go through all that anymore, is one of the first thoughts I have when I hear an adult say they still hate their parents. When they say it with such animosity and rage, I remember the raging insecurity and confusion that drove me to say such things, and I’m happy to be past all that. When I hear someone say that their parents are bumbling fools, idiots, or backwater hicks from the 1950’s, I remember saying such things, and I regret some of it. As has been said of regrets, there is little that we can do about them now, but I have also heard some say that the struggle to correct past errors defines us.
The question I would love to ask of those adults that continue to hate the ‘absolute morons’ that happen to be their parents is, “Why is it so important to you that they still be wrong?”
“I’m smarter than my dad,” writes a twenty-something blogger. “I really wish I wasn’t. It’s like finding out Santa isn’t real.”
This isn’t an exact quote, but it is a summary of her snark. The blogger goes onto discuss how her intelligence, and cultural sensitivity, are a cross that she must now bear in her discussions with her parents. She never states that she hates her parents. She states that she, in fact, loves them a great deal, but she characterizes that definition of love with an element of pity, bordering on condescension, that appears to be endemic in twenty-somethings.
Some people hate their parents in their teens, and well into their twenties. The teen years are a period of cultivation, containing rebellion, learning, etc., that occur before our minds fully form. As we age, our mind matures, and so does our rebellion, until it manifests into either full-fledged hatred, or a condescending pity that recognizes their backwater modes of thought for what they are. This matured rebellion is also based on the fact our parents still have some authority over us, and that reminds us of those days when our parents had total authority over us, and how they “abused it to proselytize their closed-minded beliefs on us.”
When we finally reach that point where they’re no longer helping us pay for tuition, a car, or rent, and we’re able to flex some independent muscles, we spend the next couple of years fortifying this notion that they were wrong, all wrong, all along.
By the time we progress to our thirties, circumstances reveal to us the logic and wisdom our parents attempted to pass down to us, and that it does apply in some circumstances. (Some will never admit this. Some remain stuck in a peak of rebellion.) Their advice may not have applied in all circumstances, but it may have applied in enough of them to force us to remove the ‘bumbling fool’ label. By the time we reach our forties, we begin to think that they’re idiots all over again.
I wrote the last line to complete the joke I heard elsewhere. It’s a funny line, because there is an element of truth in it, but in my experience a truth lies somewhere in the middle. The truth is a hybrid of the forty-something recognition of our parents’ failings, their solid points, and the respect we have for them now that we’re so independent of their authority that we begin to view them as fellow adults that were trying to lead their children down a path they thought was most conducive for success in life.
This specific timeline may not apply to everyone, as we all go through these stages on our own time, and the word ‘hate’ may be too stark a term for the adults still experiencing some animosity towards their parents, but anyone that has been through the roller coaster ride knows that the peaks and valleys can be one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride.
The key word in the timeline, for me, is ‘circumstances’. For until I reached my thirties, theory formed the foundation of my uninformed rebellion, and circumstances revealed to me that some of the “archaic and antiquated” advice my dad offered me had some merit.
These circumstances might include having children and protecting the sanctity of their childhood, in the same manner our parents attempted to protect ours. As evidence of this, I thought my dad committed an error in some ways, by allowing me to lead a sheltered existence, until some know-it-all stated that that suggested my dad did his job. “How so?” I asked in a pseudo confrontational manner that suggested that Mr. Know-it-all knew nothing about my rearing. “By allowing your childhood to last as long as possible,” he said.
It might include circumstances we experience in the work place, and all the ways in which we have learned to get along with our co-workers and appease our boss, and it might include general experiences of which our parents specifically warned us what could occur. The instinct we rebels had, on the occasion when our bumbling fools proved correct, was that it was nothing more than a coincidence.
It’s not debatable to me that I was right about some of the things I planted a flag in, but I came to understand that my dad lived a rich, full life by the time he became my mentor, and some of my impulsive, theoretical thoughts about the world were, in fact, wrong. (Even after gaining some objectivity on my relationship with my dad, it still pains me to write that line.)
Having my own job, my own money, and my own car did a great deal to provide me the independence I desired, but I wanted more. Having my own home, and friends, and a life completely independent of my dad’s influence gained me even more, but it wasn’t enough.
I wanted to be free of those figurative shackles that being my dad’s son suggested. Every piece of information I received about history, the culture, and the world was exciting, and new, and mine, because it stood in stark contrast to everything my dad taught. The information I received, that confirmed my dad’s wisdom, bored me so much I dismissed it. The new age information I received coincided with everything I wanted to believe about the “new” world my dad knew nothing about, and it confirmed my personal biases.
I didn’t ask myself the question that I now pose to the blogger when I was a twenty-something, about why I still needed my dad to be wrong. I probably would not have had much of an answer, even if I searched for it. I probably would have said something along the lines of “Why is it so important to him that he clings to that age-old, traditional mode of thought?”
This redirect would not have been an attempt at deception or evasiveness. I just did not have the awareness necessary to answer such a question. Moreover, as a twenty-something, new age thinker, I was rarely called upon to establish my bona fides. All parties concerned considered me the righteous rebel, and the old guard was, by tradition, the party on trial. They often felt compelled to answer my questions, as opposed to forcing me to define my rebellion. The beautiful thing about this whole setup was that it allowed me to avoid answering questions, even of myself.
My twenty-something definition of intelligence relied on emotion, theory, and very little in the way of facts. I thought they were facts, however, and I had the evidence to back them up. I thought I was intelligent, more intelligent, but the question I did not ask is what is intelligence? The answer is, it depends on whom you ask.
In Abraham Lincoln’s day, the ability to reference Shakespeare and The Bible in any given situation defined one’s intelligence level, to another generation it was the ability to quote Friends and Seinfeld, and knowing the IMBD list of Bruce Willis appearances, and to the next generation it was something about Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga. (I concede that the latter may be an epic fail on my part.)
My dad knew nothing of Seinfeld, or Bruce Willis, so he knew nothing as far as I was concerned. He knew nothing of computers, or devices, and he had just been introduced to gold records (They were CDs! LOL! Gold records?) shortly before his death. This lack of knowledge about pop culture and innovation transcended all matters, as far as I was concerned. I believed my dad was a traditionalist trapped in 1950’s traditionalist modes of thought, and that he could’ve never survived in our current, more sensitive culture. He was backwater, hick, and whatever other names that are applied to a man trapped in a time warp of 1960’s, maybe 70’s, but definitely not 90’s and 00’s, much less the twenty teens.
In the Workplace
Much to my shock, I began quoting my dad when I was fully ensconced in the workplace, in my thirties:
“Everyone has a boss,” and “You can learn everything there is to know about the world from books, but the two words most conducive to success in life are going to come back to either: ‘Yes sir!’ and ‘No sir’.”
Although, I loathed these words for much of my young life, as they implied that even after escaping my dad’s management of my life –a level of authority that turned out to be far more macro than I ever considered possible– a portion of my life would always be managed. I would learn the difference between his level of macro, and my boss’s definition of macro (Hint: micro) when I was out on my own, and out from under his “totalitarian” thumb. I would also learn that my boss’s moods would dictate whether my day would be a good one or a bad one, in the same manner my life had been under my dad’s roof, only tenfold.
He based his advice on his own experience in the workplace, but that experience occurred in an era that required reverence of a boss. Thanks to the new age ideas of boards and panels conducting arbitration cases for those that have been fired, the various wrongful termination lawsuits, and the threat thereof that gave life to the Human Resources department, the reverence requirement was no longer as mandatory in my era.
I would also learn that my newfound freedom would contain a whole slew of asterisks that included the fact that no matter how much free time I had, I would spend a great portion of my life in a workplace, under the watchful eye of authority, compromising my definition of freedom every step of the way.
Throughout the course of my life, I’ve also met those that never went through these stages of rebellion. If you find this as impossible to believe as I did, all I can tell you is I’ve met them. They say rational things like, “I never thought my parents were perfect, but I know that they always tried to steer me into what they believed to be the right course.”
After picking myself off the floor from laughter, believing that I was on the receiving end of a comedic bit, I realized they were serious. The fact that their upbringing was so much healthier than mine, caused me to envy them in some ways, but after chewing on that for some years I realized that all of the tumult I experienced, self-inflicted and otherwise, defined my character and my current individual definition of independence.
We are our parent’s children, and at times, we feel trapped by this. As a result, we focus on the differences. We may mention some similarities, but we do the latter in a manner that we believe is ‘understood’ by all parties concerned. Even when we reach that point in life, somewhere in our thirties and forties, when we begin to embrace some elements of that trap, we cling to the idea that we’re so different. The answers as to why these dichotomies exist within us are as confusing to us as the fact that they are a fait accompli.
When immersed in the tumult of the younger brain, trying to make some sense of our world, we may fantasize, at times, about what it would be like to have other parents. Our friend’s parents seem so normal by comparison. We think most of our problems could be resolved if we had their parents, or any parents that are more normal. We might even fantasize about what it might be like to have been free of all patriarchal influence. We consider how liberating it could be in some ways to be an orphan, until we recognize how confusing it must also be. People without parents don’t have a framework, or a familiar foundation from which to rebel, and when we consider this, we realize that our identity is wrapped up in a push and pull of acquiescence and rebellion to our parents.
While there is some acknowledgement of the ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ dictum when we receive advice from our parents, our rebellion operates under the “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” principle when we process that advice. When we reach an age when we realize that knowledge of innovations and pop culture are superfluous, that removes a substantial plank of our rebellion, until politics takes its place. We then sit down at their dinner table to resolve the political and geopolitical problems of the day, for our nation, in a manner we deem substantial. It fires us up. We deliver nuke after nuke, until we realize that the effort to persuade our parents is futile, and that steeped in this effort was our juvenile, sometimes snarky need to prove them wrong. While a more substantial plane than pop culture, political discussions can be just as silly for us, as it was for our parents when they discussed such issues at their parents’ dinner table, and they considered their parents to be bumbling idiots that offered nothing new to the discussion and stubbornly resisted the winds of culture change. The one import that they may have taken from their discussions with their parents, as we will with ours, over time, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and human nature doesn’t change as much as we may believe it does with innovations, cultural advancements, and social awareness. A kiss is still a kiss, a boss is still a boss, and the fundamental things still apply, as time goes by.