With so much up in the air and this cold that won’t go away and my grandfather’s deteriorating condition it’s certainly hard to do what I need to do this week – relax. Every day spent at home is certainly an eye-opening reminder of the makings of my psyche, for better or worse. It’s useful as I pry myself out of my narcissistic personality to address head on the makings of this neurotic mind.
Are your parents crazy? Are everyone’s parents crazy? Are mine just a bit more crazy? It made me chuckle out loud yesterday when – out at a very awkward lunch with my father at the local Indian Buffet – he described my mother as “looney toons.” While that, in fact, may be true, he isn’t exactly Mr. Sane himself. What both of my parents do not have is the ability to understand how their actions effect other people. It isn’t that they don’t care, they just don’t even stop to empathize with another person. Their lives are, individually, more important than any other thing in the world, except maybe – conservative politics, to my dad – and the holocaust, to my mom.
We walked into this nearly-empty Indian Buffet restaurant for lunch and my father, a regular frequenter of the establishment, puts on his awkward fake charm introducing me to the workers at the restaurant, making a comment about “this is my daughter, isn’t she beautiful?” and then he makes some awkward comment about the woman who owns the establishment and how beautiful she is two, he’s “surrounded by beautiful women” and for her to, jokingly, not tell her husband he said so. While that alone was not terrible, what gets to me is how unaware he is of other people and what is going on in their minds. Our waiter – a very awkward probably 18-year-old Indian male who seemed to speak little English and possibly have some sort of minor autism – was greeted with the following message by my father “this is my daughter. Ask her out, maybe you’ll have a date.” What dad? What was that?
I hoped the waiter he didn’t hear or understand what my father had just said. I briefly thought to explain why it was absolutely inappropriate to say such a thing, but saying anything of the sort would be fruitless in use anyway. I got up immediately and walked to the buffet, blushing. Despite letting everyone at the restaurant know how “beautiful” I am this didn’t stop him from later in the dining experience, when I was explaining my braces and how they work, spurting out that my teeth are yellow and I should get them whitened (as if I do not know this already or are not completely self-conscious about it.) A person who thinks about how other people feel might say the same in different words — maybe even “have you ever tried teeth whitening, I was looking into it myself” or “I heard about this teeth whitening thing but it probably costs a lot, are you going to try that for your wedding? I hear a lot of brides do.” There are just more elegant ways of telling someone such news, or not at all. But with him the comment comes out of no where in the middle of an otherwise momentary pleasant conversation. Sure – you’re spending thousands of dollars to straighten your teeth and fix your overbite, and I just told everyone here how beautiful you are – but your teeth are yellow. Nevermind that my father’s teeth are cracked and falling a part, that he has been morbidly obese in various ranges throughout my entire life, and that his own teeth are not exactly pearly white. I held my breath and changed topics.
The Game of Risk: We’d Rather Not Play at All
One thing I never quite realized about my father until this week was just how risk adverse he is. It’s not just risk aversion, which played into his career where his job was to calculate risk, he’s absolutely paranoid. For example, when I got dropped off at my friend’s bridal shower after he screamed at me for failing to have the right address (my phone internet was not working as I planned to look it up in my Facebook history and it took a few minutes or drive time to get into a better reception area) he then didn’t believe me that I had seen the restaurant a few blocks back to let me out of the car, as he was worried I might get hurt. This from a man who used to beat me with my belt and to this day if he gets the strength for it can shove my mother across the room. His definition of hurt needs some work. I convinced him to let me out and walk back a few blocks to the restaurant. He sat on the curb until he saw I got inside, as if I was 2.
My father also could have been a great physicist – for all the crazy he is a very intelligent man. I had forgotten and reminded my week by his sister that he received a full ride to MIT for undergrad, chose not to even apply to Princeton, and went to a much smaller, less prestigious school despite being able to go practically anywhere he wanted for free with his stellar academic career. He didn’t want to go so far from home or to be in a bigger school, so he went somewhere with 1000 people only. Then as a grad student he dropped out of Cornell, unable to take the pressure, it seems.
His parents are fascinating as well – a father who was both to a man from Naples who disappeared when he was less than two – and a Slovakian woman who raised him with a German stepfather in a very Catholic household. He was in the Navy and raised his kids as such. Seeing the shell of the man he once was at the hospital this week is unnerving as he’s always been full of spunk and an energy you know not to piss off. Now he can only make out a few grumbles while squeezing his fist so tight you think he’s going to rip through his hand.
My dad’s mother, on the other hand, is a Jewish woman of Hungarian and Polish decent. She, at the least, has the ability to somewhat understand how her actions effect other people. Yet her six children – my dad being the oldest of the six – all have their larger-than life personalities shaped by her parenting. She’s a strong woman in my mind, though a bit OCD, and I can see where my father gets his monotone range of panic over any unsettling situation from her. Everything that doesn’t go her way is, momentarily, the end of the world. It’s the same with my dad, though she doesn’t react in the same violent frightening way.
Mom is in Her Own Little World
Mrs. Looney Toons, my mother, is probably certifiably crazy. It’s interesting pitting the psyches of my mother and father against each other because in a lot of ways they are the same – living in their own self-entitled world. However my father – to give him some credit – has a limited grasp on reality (working to support a family of four for so many years and a wife who quickly spends a ton of money without understanding of what this does to ones savings can do such a thing to a person.)
A friend of mine recently shared some insightful wisdom on how kids don’t generally know how to do things well, they must have a model to follow. If the parents are constantly screaming at each other and being violent and then the child starts to act up and the child is punished for her behavior, well, then, the parents actually taught the child the same behavior they are punishing her for. It’s a vicious cycle. Same goes for my achilles heel – my lacking ability to clean up my room and keep my life organized. While this was the main source of my own beatings as a child, I had a mother who would simultaneously tell me to clean up my room while freaking out should I ever suggest throwing anything away. My father’s organization skills were no less troubling, his own room and desk flooded with papers and books. Yet somehow I had to understand how to keep things organized without throwing away any of the items. I guess organization comes naturally to some without the model but for me it was very difficult and to this day is a huge challenge. My mind runs on a thousand times in this paranoid loop of whether I will ever need an item before I can part with it – making cleaning take much longer than it would for the average person and causing more stress than it ever should. No wonder I avoid it.
While my father will comment about just anything about you without concern or thought for how such a statement makes you feel, my mother’s comments are much more shallow. Her primary goals are for you as a child are for you to look good in pictures and have a job that she can explain ad nauseam to anyone she encounters who she might possibly somehow know. For example, a neighbor walking down the street with her dog, obviously not intending to stop and listen to my mom’s story vomit for fifteen minutes, got caught up in this by stopping to say an unavoidable hello passing our house while we were out front. My mom – completely unable to grasp that someone may have better things to do then hear her life story du jour – starts to tell my life story, my sister’s life story, the story of what is happening to my dad’s father in the hospital. The woman, who is trying to not be rude, smiles and nods at her dog tugs at his lease and tries to move her along. It isn’t that the woman wanted to not stop and chat at all, but my mother – likely aspergian to some degree – doesn’t have it in her mind to read people’s faces and understand it’s time to stop talking.
In another example of my mother’s childish narcissism, and this is something she does often, we were at a sort of outdoor museum and in one garden area a wedding was being held. It was in public so it was her right to peer inside like many others were doing – however, while the other group remained further back from the opening between two sets of bushes she walked right up to the hole, loudly announcing that her daughter is looking for a wedding venue too. She wasn’t talking to the people inside the wedding itself, she was talking to the air, because she thinks people care. To her credit, this is how she gets into conversations with others about whatever topic she wants to be talking about at the moment – someone usually takes the bait and often it’s another Jewish woman with a similar penchant for rambling on and on and on. My mother, to her credit, has no social fear. She can walk up to just about anyone and start talking to them on the topic of just about anything. I don’t know how she does it as the thought of such a thing makes me shrivel up and a panic attack arise, but she doesn’t have this fear at all inside of her. Maybe it’s a blessing. But it can be quite awkward and embarrassing in many situations. As my mom explained to the air and to the workers blocking the opening to the wedding that her daughter is looking for a wedding venue, her daughter, struck with the panic of embarrassment, disappeared into another exhibit.
Both of my parents are in many ways like children who are unable to be pleased. Another conversation I had yesterday with my aunt was around how I feel terrible for never buying my cousins and grandparents gifts but I have an honest neurosis around buying a gift that isn’t good enough for them. She said that’s silly, that it’s the thought that counts. I countered with the reminder that my parents would judge any gift I got them with contention, and often the gift would be not good enough for their tastes. My father would complain about it only to later make some comment boasting about his daughter got him a gift. My mother would, unless I got lucky, complain that the gift wasn’t useful or it was something she would buy anyway or she just didn’t like it. So I rarely buy people gifts. It’s not just a financial thing, it’s also this mental freak out I have every time I try to get anyone something.
What my immediate family never had was this ability to care for each other. Everyone is in their own world of self importance. We are a family of egos, my parents hyper-critical of everyone but themselves – and myself and my sister – caught up in this web of learned narcissism paired with a lack of trust in who we really are. That is why, for me, it is so remarkably refreshing to be in a relationship with a man who is the complete opposite of what I know. Where love in my family is only defined by financial support and the basics of life – “I love you therefore I feed you” – my relationship is filled with love and care. I’ve had all of this love boiling up inside of me for so long that I didn’t know where to put it or how to use it. But it really is simple. I love my guy and we can sit and cuddle and laugh and – I try my best – to care for each other no matter the other’s choices. His life is not my life and vice versa. I have no right to judge his choices as long as they do not severely effect my well being. And he doesn’t judge at all. He is there for me in my best and my worst and my worst again. That’s what actual love is. Money can get in the way but as long as you focus on yourself and the money you need to live the life you want and support your children in the way you want then it’s not an issue. Financial independence – from each other – in a relationship makes love possible. Then it can’t be about what the other person provides beyond love, care, and ongoing moral support for the chaos that is life.