Parenting Twilight Zone
I had a Draper Childhood, most about 7 miles south of the Draper homestead in Ossining, and later left on my own in downtown Buffalo for high school. I recently visited that house and the gut crunch was as fresh as the Beef on Weck I had at the airport.
Our sons are now, officially, men, as I am, but they still call, text and see us fairly frequently – in contrast to my childhood, where I saw my father several weeks a year in high school and once at college, (even though it was both my parents’ alma mater). They saw me play football once, even though I was a captain, did not see me play Nathan Detroit in the High School musical, and I talked to them once every few weeks in college.
But that was not unusual. This was the Greatest Generation having children in a place where alcohol, men working in far-away city centers, huge cultural hypocrisies often went unaddressed, so denial was natural.
But having children yourself ends denial – or catapults it into overdrive. We have seen some of our acquaintances be shocked when a child that dabbles in bad behavior become a slave to it – lying, drugs, alcohol, sexual dehumanization.
The blind-spot of the Friend-Parent to danger is just as self-serving as the Helicopter Parent’s assumption that every aspect of a child’s life needs your vetting. But my parents were neither friends, nor helicoptering – they were living lives that were desperately unhappy, and their children complicated their dysfunction.
I only now realize what my parents did not experience when they lived their lives in the “appropriate” way for the mid-century. But did they miss what they never saw?
I told them little more than the facts of what I was doing (pretty easy to do, given the nature of some of those facts), whereas our deep desire to witness the concerts, games, plays, even the recap of presentations, dates, parties and tests may be pathetically narcissistic, it did allow us to taste the joy, sorrow, fear and hubris of growing up again.
Even in full Empty Nestship the Black Hole connecting my childhood to the evolving lives of our children has a fresh anxiety that has its unavoidable outcome in nightly REM re-livings, turning Black Hole into Worm Hole.
I have no idea if my parents had regrets, and I am not so self-imbued as to think that my parents should have had my perspective that children were, ultimately, the most important aspect of life – and marriage.
But knowing now what they did not know, I feel far more distant from my long dead parents than I did before we had our own children.
Essentially being a parent has placed my childhood in a Twilight Zone of immediate emotional connection across half a century of time while simultaneously making my parents more alien and mysterious in their absence from so much.
There is no knowing how my boys will view their children, should they have any – but I know they have seen one extreme form of parenting up close and personal – the Ever-Ready Energizer Parent – perhaps they will pivot as I did, and miss a few events, practices or texts…but somehow I think the happiness of sharing so much for so long may be contagious…