Oscar Wilde said once that children begin by loving their parents and after a time they judge them and “rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.” Sometimes I wonder what my children will complain about to a therapist later because there will be something I do that drives them nuts. No matter how much we love our kids they have to go through the judging phase, hating our music, our chorizo risotto and believing we have no idea about anything so they move out. It’s nature.
I still get annoyed when I go home and stay with my parents but it’s no longer about their music choice, it’s because my children turn into aliens. They forget they know what manners are, they ask for Grandad’s Shrewsbury’s every twenty minutes and for some reason have no idea what it means when their mother says no.
And then there’s the butter knife. They don’t know how to use a butter knife, which just goes to show what kind of shit show I’m running at home.
I’m no longer judging my parents, I’m judging myself and whether I’m doing as good a job as them.
Recently I went home and was getting in a little tizzy about my children not listening and nearly bowling over Grandma when Mum told me the news. Dad’s ticker’s not working properly; he’s got Angina.
It hit me like a punch to the stomach.
My father is like Mr Incredible without the Lycra. Big. Strong. Super. Smart. Adept. Funny. At university he built a loom to make his own clothes that took up so much space in his bedroom he had to climb through the window. He grew our veggies way before it was hip to do that. Forget The Block, my Dad invented DIY and made a pop up camper-van from our trailer. I still have no idea how he did this. He was a teacher, a mentor, and a great student of life. Even now I can pick a year – 1753, what was happening Dad? and he has an answer. He’s a big fan of the pun and was a great moral compass for me growing up.
Watching him feel unwell was rough but worse was seeing fear in his eyes. His body, which has always been reliable, is starting to fail him in parts.
It broke my heart into a thousand pieces. I can’t bear to think of him as an old man because that’s not who he is to me. It shakes my very foundations.
He gave his daughter ambition, strength, a sense of humour and a belief she could do maths. And the life him and my Mother have lived should get 350,000 likes on Facebook and a medal but nobody recognizes it.
The ‘I raised a family well’ awards have never been invented.
We’re all too busy wanting our fifteen minutes of fame as Andy Warhol predicted. My children are growing up in the ‘like’ generation and want to be famous on YouTube. You won’t find my parents under any Google rankings. They are very normal in a most extraordinary way.
Thanks to their unwavering belief in me, I believe, I turned out OK. There have always been two people who think I am unbelievably amazing; everything I do they are interested in and everything I say they listen to. No matter what I did, how bad I messed up, how far away I ran, how many things I shouldn’t have tried but did, or people I dated when everyone else knew it would end in tears, they always helped me through. This kind of belief and solid foundation is stronger than a backbone, and much more reliable than a large social media following.
Sometimes when I see my children hurt or scared or unsure I want to inject them with the love my parents gave me. Instantly. If I had it in a syringe I would jab it in their legs and give them a triple dose to make them know they are unbelievably amazing too, but that’s impossible. They have to struggle, experience hurt, pain, be scared, rejected, feel alone, and survive to know they have a backbone too. You only get to feel it when you test the limits.
My parents are not invincible and time’s going to win in the end. One day I won’t be able to visit them and get annoyed with the TV volume, and Dad won’t be around to tell me what happened in 1289. Knowing this helps me understand what I can do for my kids. It’s so circular and simple it’s kind of embarrassing it has taking me 45 years to figure this out.
The best I can do is give them the same thing – not a swimming pool and ski lessons, although that will make them judge me less – but unconditional, never wavering, never doubting, rock solid, always listening, never judging love.
And then hopefully they’ll forgive me for not teaching them how to use a butter knife.