I am so glad I don’t have to go through all that anymore, is the first thought I have when I hear an adult talk about how they still hate their parents. When they say it with such animosity and rage, I remember the emotions 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. I regret some of it, sure, but as has been said of regrets, there is little that we can do about them now, and our struggle to correct past errors defines us.
I also remember thinking no one was listening to me. So, when people talk about how awful their parents are, I listen. I listen to those in their twenties, and I remember those complaints. I listen to thirty-somethings, and I try to remember if I was that angry in my thirties. When the complaints come from those who have cross the big four-oh!, the question I want to ask them, “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.”
That isn’t an exact quote, but it is a decent summary of her snarky blog. The blogger goes onto discuss how 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 carry this teenage hatred well into their twenties. The teen years are a period of cultivation, 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 that 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 a point when they’re no longer helping us pay for tuition, a car, or rent, and we’re able to flex independent muscles, we spend the next couple of years fortifying this notion that they were wrong, all wrong, all along.
By the time we grow past our narcissistic teens and twenties, circumstances reveal the logic and wisdom our parents attempted to pass down to us, and the idea that some of it applies in some circumstances. (Some will never admit this. Some remain stuck in a peak of rebellion.) Their advice did not apply in all circumstances, of course, but it did in so many that we decided to turn the bumbling fool tint off on our rose colored glasses. Then, when we reach our forties, we begin to think that they’re idiots all over again.
I wrote the last line to complete a joke I read. It’s a funny line, because there is an element of truth in it, but in my experience the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The truth is a hybrid of the lifelong recognition we have had of our parents’ failings combined with the points we begrudgingly give them on some matters. We also gain some respect for them in a manner we never did as kids, because we now have our own kids who view us as bumbling fools. As flawed as they were, and some of their advice and philosophies were fundamentally flawed, we have enough distance from our youth that we can now view them as fellow parents who tried to lead us down a path conducive for happiness and success in life. At some point, we learn it’s no longer about them. It’s about us.
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 strong to describe the animosity some adults still have for their parents, but anyone who has been through the peaks and valleys of a combustible relationship with their parents knows it can be one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride.
Theory formed the foundation of much of my uninformed rebellion, and real-world circumstances revealed to me that some of the archaic and antiquated advice my dad offered me had some merit. These circumstances, as I said, included having my own child and my own attempts to protect the sanctity of his childhood, in the same manner my dad attempted to protect mine. As evidence of this, I once thought my dad committed some errors in raising me by sheltering me too much, until some know-it-all said that means my dad did his job. “How so?” I asked. I was all ready to launch into a self-righteous screed about how he knew nothing about my childhood, until he said, “By allowing your childhood to last as long as possible.” That response shut me up in the moment, but the more I chewed on it, the more I liked that response.
Another circumstance arrived when I tried to get along with my co-workers, and I tried to appease my boss. My father warned me that this would be more difficult than I assumed, and he was right, but I regarded that as nothing more than an inconvenient coincidence in my path to individuality.
It’s not debatable to me that I was right about some of the things I planted a flag in, but these circumstances led me 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 this matter, 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 devoid of my dad’s influence gained me even more, but it wasn’t enough.
I wanted to be free of the figurative shackles being my dad’s son implied. 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 believed. The information I received, that confirmed my dad’s wisdom, bored me so much I dismissed it. The new age information coincided with everything I wanted to believe about the brave new world that my dad knew nothing about, and it confirmed my personal biases.
I didn’t ask myself the question that I now pose to those who still need to prove their parents 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 cling 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 a 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, and I enjoyed that because on some level I knew I couldn’t answer those questions.
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 than my dad was, 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 drop a pertinent reference from Shakespeare and The Bible in any given situation formed the perception of one’s intelligence. My generation believed that dropping a well-timed, pertinent quote from Friends and Seinfeld defined intelligence, coupled with a thorough knowledge of the IMBD list of Bruce Willis. To the next generation, it has something to do with knowing more than your neighbor 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 about computers, or devices, and a third party introduced him to gold records (These gold records were CDs, compact discs, LOL! Gold records?) shortly before his death. This lack of knowledge about pop culture and technological innovation transcended all matters, as far as I was concerned. I believed my dad was a bumbling fool, traditionalist trapped in 1950’s traditionalist modes of thought, and that he could’ve never survived in our current, more sensitive culture. He was a backwater, hick, and whatever other adjectives we apply to one trapped in a time warp of the sixties, maybe seventies, but definitely not nineties, the noughties, or the deccas.
The question that we in the smarter-than-our-parents contingent must ask ourselves is how much of the divide between our parents’ level of intelligence and ours is in service of anything? I, like the snarky and provocative blog writer, can say that I knew more about more than my dad did, but I defined that divide and most of what I used to inform that divide involved inconsequential information that would never serve a substantial purpose. The conditions of my dad’s life were such that he didn’t receive what most would call a quality education, but he used whatever he learned to prosper on a relative basis. One could say that the difference between my dad’s education and mine, and the education of the snarky contingent versus her parents’, could be whittled down to quantity versus quality.
In the Workplace
Much to my shock, I began quoting my dad to fellow tenured employees, when I was well into 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 revert to either: ‘Yes sir!’ and ‘No sir’.”
I loathed those 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– I would always have a boss, and the bosses who followed my dad taught me the difference between his level of macro management, and my boss’s definition (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 forever dictate whether my day would be a good one or a bad one, in the same manner days under my dad’s moods affected me, only tenfold.
Dad’s advice derived from his experience in the workplace, but that experience occurred in an era that required absolute, unquestioning reverence of a boss. Thanks to the new age ideas of boards and panels conducting arbitration cases for those who 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 level of freedom would contain a whole slew of asterisks that included the idea 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 personal definition of freedom every step of the way.
Throughout the course of my life, I’ve met those who didn’t go through through these stages of rebellion. If you find this as incomprehensible as I did, all I can tell you is I’ve met them. They said rational things like this, in their twenties, “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.”
As soon as I picked 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 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 it. Therefore, we focus on the differences. We may mention some of the similarities, but we take those characteristics for granted, and we think all parties concerned do too. Even when we reach a stage in life when we begin to embrace some elements of that trap, somewhere in our thirties and forties, 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 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 normal people as parents. We might even fantasize about what it might be like to have been free of all patriarchal influence. We consider how liberating it might be to be an orphan, until we recognize how confusing that must also be. Those without parents must lack a frame of reference, a substantial framework, or a familiar foundation from which to rebel. When we consider this, we realize that our current identity is comprised of various pushes and pulls 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 and apply it to our era. When we acknowledge 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 our proverbial 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. We also recognize that nestled within 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 fools who 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.
One final piece of advice this former rebel turned-individual offers to the provocative, parent-hating rebels is that we should all thank our parents for raising us. Thanking them could be one of the hardest things we ever do, as we may lose most of the provocative, parent-hating points we’ve spent our whole life accumulating, but it might turn out to be one of the best things we ever do too.
I thanked my dad for everything he did for me, and I did not add all of the qualifiers and addendum I would have added years earlier. I managed to put all grievances behind me for the ten seconds it took me to thank him.
Was it hard? I will not bore you with the details of my rearing, but suffice it to say my dad could be a difficult man, and he played a significant role in the anger, frustration, and the feelings of estrangement I felt for much of my life.
I could go into further detail to ingratiate myself with those currently struggling with the idea that I don’t understand their dilemma. To display my empathy, I have a quote that served me well throughout the traumatic years: “Not every person who becomes a parent is a good person.” Parents are people too, and some of them are as misguided, confused, immoral, and selfish as the rest of us are. Yet, we are people too, and some of us are susceptible to making the mistake of amplifying their faults in our myopic view of them. If we were able to shake that myopic view, I think most of us will see that our parents were essentially good people who tried to move past their limitations to make us better than they were.
I dedicate this addendum to those who acknowledge that there might be anecdotes in this post that provide clarity on this subject, and they might even admit that thanking their parents would be noble, but the wound is too fresh and raw to forgive or thank them today. I empathize on a relative basis, but all I can tell my fellow angry offspring is that it would not have sat well with me if I waited.
As I sat in a pew staring at the pine box, I realized that no matter how obnoxious, self-serving, and angry my father could be at times, he was a member of an endangered species comprised of those who truly care what happens to me. How many people truly care what happens to us? Our closest friends may say they do, but they have their own lives to live, and they will move on. We know our parents care, but some of them show it by seeking constant updates, harping, and telling us how to live our lives, long after the tie that binds us has been broken. As impossible as this is to believe today, expressing some level of gratitude in whatever manner your relationship with your parents require might be the best thing you have ever done. We might not see it that way today, but my guess is that even the most obnoxious rebel will see it one day, and my hope is that this addendum will convince someone, somewhere that waiting one more day might be one day too late.