Parents Are People Too

I have always had an extremely tumultuous relationship with my father, and a somewhat challenging relationship with my mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love them both unconditionally. I know in my heart that they always tried to do the best they could for all of their children.

All children, at some point in their lives, finally realize that their parents are people too. It can be very difficult to accept that your parents have normal human weaknesses. But it is part of every human being’s developmental journey through life, to learn your parents are no different then you or your peers.

Some parents are abusive. Some parents are emotionally unavailable. And sometimes, parents aren’t always willing to admit to their children that they have human frailty.

In the case of my parents, in order to try to understand them as human beings, I have to start with looking at their own childhood experiences. And I’m sharing this publicly because I have a few posts in the queue that relate directly to my relationship with my father.  Any information I share about him is only to provide context – not to “expose” his frailty to the mass public.

My paternal grandmother, Rose, was born in 1910. She lived through a huge amount of change, unrest and an almost constant process of social reform. By the time she got married, the world had already had one world war, and was gearing up for a second, and she was living through and struggling through the Great Depression (as was the rest of the world). Is also the same time period when the USA was truly becoming a world power.

Grandma Rose was the daughter of Dutch immigrants. The Dutch are known, somewhat, as a people who pride themselves and often brutal frankness. Additionally, there is a stereotype that Dutch women are controlling and pushy. The stereotypical woman who micromanages her family’s life fits right in to the Dutch culture.

My father born just one short month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It had to be difficult for Rose to raise her son during America’s involvement in World War II. Unfortunately, in 1947, her husband Alvin died, leaving her and her five year old son alone.

Between 1947 and 1960 it was just the two of them alone. Grandma Rose had a great deal of determination and strength, and like so many other Dutch people was fiercely independent. She did not receive that much support from Alvin’s family and her own family was not really close enough to give her support as well. This was not exactly an easy time period to be a single mother. She did at least have one or two friends could provide moral support if she allowed them to.

Of course, in 1960, my father married my mother. Eight years later, I came into the picture (my sister, Cheryl, having been born in 1964).

Another important piece of the puzzle, is that not only could I be Grandma Rose’s doppelgänger, my personality is extremely similar to hers. Obviously, this means that occasionally some of the emotional triggers that he developed relating to his relationship with his mother have subconsciously influenced my relationship with him.

Additionally, emotional interactions with my mother influenced my relationship with my father, and sometimes those issues strongly impact the relationship I have with him.

Very often, children develop similar personality traits as their parent(s). In our family, control issues and perfectionism are two traits that can be seen in every person in our nuclear family (on both sides – maternal and paternal). Sadly, anger, arrogance and authoritarianism are also strongly represented in our family. Anger may not be the right word for it, as it presents as cynicism, entitlement, and dominance. (Yes, this means I am admitting that I can sometimes act entitled, and that I have a dominant personality.  I am part of the family, and it is a family trait.  But I do work hard to translate those traits into something more positive. I don’t always succeed, but I do try.)

I will always deeply love and respect my father. I know exactly how devastated I will be when he dies.  He’s been a main-stay in my life for so long, and I have depended on his advice and support…even when I strongly disagreed with him. He taught me so many things, and worked very hard to help both my sister and I to become independent, self-assured women.  In some ways, he succeeded too well with me.  Our personalities clash often because of that training – because he wanted us to learn how to think for ourselves.  And because sometimes my thinking takes a 90° turn from his own, his psychological control issues can be at odds to my own.

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