Predominantly in television shows today, there is an ongoing narrative. Every episode in a season is like a chapter to a book, and every season is another book in the ongoing series. Things culminate. Events in one episode matter in the ongoing series. We nit-pick that on LOST Charlie couldn’t swim to save someone drowning in the first season but in the final season there were flashbacks that revealed he was adept at swimming, and so swam out to the underwater DARMA station where he eventually met with death. We should nit-pick, too, for if story-telling is going to evolve, we should hold it up to higher standards. I think we have proven this to be the case and should take more time to sit back and reflect upon how far we’ve come. After all, the story-telling on television was once considerably worse.
Though its dominance had waned around the turn of the century and now seems to be dwindling more than ever, as I grew up in the eighties and nineties the situation comedy or sitcom ruled television, and with it a considerably shitty form of story-telling that bothered me from as far back as I can remember. To avoid profound confusion, you were forced to consider every episode a stand-alone that was supported by and may even directly reference the some general official back-story, but would never reference earlier episodes, nor would it be referenced by later ones. No episode had any real significance to the overall story. There was no real ongoing narrative weaving all the episodes together. The typical lessons learned or agreements made or realizations endured in a single episode only had relevance to that particular episode; its reality evaporate and amnesia set in so the characters never really caught on to the fact that they were all really Bill Murray and every sitcom was really early versions of the movie Groundhog Day.
Perhaps growing up and watching sitcoms with such enormous lack of concern for the internal consistency of the story line made me so conscious of narrative flow that it suitably explains my irritations with relatively insignificant continuity errors in the few current television shows I watch.
Or maybe its true source was the act of growing up as my mother’s eldest and only son. Indeed, sitcoms seem to have come straight off the same assembly line off of which every pointless sitcom I’d ever seen in my childhood had derived. As much as it pains me to consider it so, it may have been circumstances such as the one her and I seemed hopelessly bound to in the beginning that inspired such wretched television shows to begin with.
As far back as I can remember, mom and I were always getting in an argument about something, and it happened ad nauseam, and as seems to be the case with many all-too-familiar things, conjuring up a specific example is for some reason up there with the Labors of Hercules.
Everything was so formulaic. After our hasty exchange she would inevitably send me to my room, and then, following a seeming eternity during which I usually laid back, stared at a wall and stewed over how much I hated her, she would come knocking at my door. We would sit down and a long, drawn-out talk would ensue. By and large, the end result would be her admitting the most minimal degree of wrong and me pseudo-confessing to having had at least fifty percent fault with respect to the incident in question. We would both cry, we would both hug, we would agree on some “moral of the story” or lesson to be learned from the experience, and then we would work out some solution that involved effort on the behalf of the both of us and the need to cooperate in order to make things better.
Enter the theme music. Fade to black. Roll the credits. Cut to commercial.
And the next day, it would be more or less a re-run, a stand-alone, like some existential continuity error.
After awhile, however, my mother apparently became as tired as I did over this sitcom script, albeit for what clearly seemed to be different reasons. I saw them as a pointless exercise, as they ultimately revealed themselves to be words and motions without substance and nothing ever changed as a result of them. She merely grew tired of admitting any degree of fault in any conflict between us and suddenly concluded that she was the mother, she was always right, and she had no reason to feel guilty regarding that.
From that point forward, my mother would refuse to hear me out, and when I did manage to squeeze a word in edgewise she would refuse to even consider my point of view. If she would have disagreed with me after actually listening to what I had to say and taking into account how I felt, such intense degrees of hate would not have grown in me towards her, but she utterly refused to recognize that I had a mind and will of my own.
As I remember it, and I confess perhaps conveniently enough, the arguments almost always stemmed from my mother herself or my sisters. Since they had moved into a room with one another and I had gotten my own room at around age five or six, my sisters had clearly become spineless sheep with bleeding knees and noses caked in belly-aching coats of ever-moist brown. As we got older, they would speak more to me behind mom’s back, how much they disagreed with her and how she did indeed single me out, but it took years later even after those confessions for them to actually stand up to her in the most trivial of ways. From the beginning I was the only one in the house willing to openly question her authority and demand that my voice be heard.
That I always fought her when I was a child, unlike my sisters, not only angered her but confused her, as she expressed to me when I was older and had my own apartment. It is a parents job to shape them, to teach them right from wrong, she said. She seemed to believe that kids should perceive their parents as gods, follow their commands with unwavering obedience, and place blind and absolute faith in all that they say. We didn’t rate as people so much as pets, and she expected out of us exactly what she expected out of her infinite number of animals. And when she tells me that she is happy with how we turned out, that she thinks they did a good job as parents, it only stimulates my rage further, as she seems to do it in such a way that the implication is that we are successful projects of hers. Clay moulded and successfully baked to perfection. I could be justified on the grounds that I was the prototype, circuits shorting and programs not always running properly, but given the conditions, she did a Grade-A job with respect to construction and maintenance of her first spawn and one and only son.
No, that’s not how it is. She always treated me as an inconvenience, and I always expressed this feeling she gave me in the same way while I was growing up. It was often if not only to my father, and I always said it to him in the middle of the arguments between mom and I, where mom never wasted any time or subtle yet ever-powerful manipulative skill in placing him.
“If she didn’t want me,” I would ask him, “then why did she have me?”
Right from the beginning and before I even knew what it was, it would seem, I was passionately pro-choice. In addition, I was for equal rights and privileges. That’s not to indicate that my mother was any different, of course, only that in any case it was entirely irrelevant to my childhood, for my mother did not see me as ranking as high as the human being. I was evidently a different species, the Child.
Later, when I was much older, my mother revealed her perspective that until they reach the age of eighteen, children do not constitute individuals. What they were, she suggested but never directly stated, were rather empty bottles off the assembly line whose job it was her own to fill. This was a job she had always taken seriously, evidenced by how frequently she pulled rank, as if my side of the argument was defeated through the simple, violent words, “I am the mother.” That, or she would respond to my questions with what did not, by any measure, constitute an answer, most famously with the oft-repeated words: “Because I said so.” Just as often she would use my inevitable circumstance — that being the fact that I was a typical, vulnerable child born into this world and by necessity forced to depend upon her — against me in order to justify whatever it was that I argued about. “You live under my roof, and as long as you do, you’ll abide by my rules, and what I say goes.”
It went, as it ultimately had to, but I made it my life’s purpose to ensure it didn’t go smoothly. I won, the series ended, when I moved out of my parent’s house for the last time in my early twenties, having finally, after a few failed attempts, successfully spawned a spin-off. I always like to think so, anyway. Especially after hoping and trying for so long to escape that agonizing story, the sitcom that should have been canceled years ago, without even knowing that vital back-story that made the sitcom, the piece-of-shitcom of my childhood finally make some sense.
It helps that the older people get, the more they reminisce on the past, and that the less often I see my mother the more I seem to take on the semblance of a human in her eyes. Sometimes I guide or even provoke such conversations to gain an insight or eight.
When she explained to me what pissed her off most about her own father, for instance, she began explaining with visible anger at the thought how the man would be livid one minute and then be fine the next, acting as if nothing had happened at all. Asking what she would have had him do, my mother said that she was of the philosophy that if you’re pissed off about something, at least talk about it. And she did seem to actually live up to this philosophy for awhile in my youth, but then it went out the window, and why? It was because she didn’t get the results she desired.
So in the end my mother went to the extreme opposite of her father. She decided to at hold onto her anger, to drag it out and make it a potent reality. After her and I fought she would ignore me for days, engaging in a war of silence, failing sometimes to even acknowledge my existence. When we eventually “talked about it,” however, it was more of her talking and me being forced to listen. All she wanted out of our “talking” was for me to know what it was I did wrong. I never got to have my day in court, to have my argument be heard. Unless is was to utter an apology, I would be damned lucky to even get a word in edgewise. She would say what she wanted to say and then turn and walk away. I always got the impression that in her eyes, what I thought or felt didn’t matter, because she was the ever-so-wise parent and I, the all-too-ignorant child.
Yet I was not an ignorant child, and my mother, less of a parent on such occasions than an embittered child playing the role of parent and taking it too seriously and growing quickly to a rage when you questioned her role, could see through her silly mask, gaffed at her goofy costume, and tried to break free from her rigged fucking game and expose it for what it was. When it came to parenthood, my mother had not really left the embittered child she had once been behind her; to the contrary, she was that embittered child now among three other children, and they were playing house, and she was playing the mother who, being a child, imagined imbued with all the powers typically attributed to the creator of the cosmos. Which is precisely the kind of parental role you would expect to be played by a child that had the childhood experience my mother had.
When she was young, my mother lived with her mother and father in the house of her grandmother, which is to say her father’s mother. The way my mother explained it to me, her grandmother was essentially the queen bee of their own (not at all particularly hive-like) house. Her father agreed with the Queen unquestionably. As for her own mother, she was quiet and off in the background — “the mouse,“ as my mother called her — and naturally did whatever it was that her husband wished. Despite how close my mother came with my grandmother later in life, my mother seemed to detest how subservient grandma was towards grandpa when she was growing up, and this aversion that’s run pretty deep in her, if you ask me. So naturally my mother modeled her own role as parent after her own grandmother, the queen bee who she described to me as her true mother figure. In her role as wife to my father, she was emulating both the role her grandmother had towards her father, and that her own father in turn played towards her mother.
As my two sisters and I had grown up, my mother was undoubtedly the queen bee of our not-at-all hive-like suburban residence, and my mother had spoken of this fact, particularly in my youth, as if she had been unfairly thrust into the role. She claimed to want partnership, not central authority. My mother has explained to me how it was hard when we were young, as dad was working all the time and it was basically her raising us kids until he came home from work. Aside from his absence, she has also commented on how she wishes he would have been “more of a father” and then proceeded to softly criticize my father for not having been involved with my two younger sisters and I, particularly me. Boys tend to be like the father figure, she says, but when the father is absent, he’s lost.
I’ve heard that for the male, the father figure is the role model. Boys seek to emulate the father figure and seek out their mother in a significant others. Girls seek to emulate their mother figure and seek out the father in significant others. And when a father figure or mother figure is absent for either, they find the closest thing to it. The closest to a father or mother they can find. Studies have shown that men who had a positive father figure have less anxiety, handle stress better, and are more apt to develop better strategies in the cooperative and competitive arenas. Also, through the father we learn how to form relationships with both members of the opposite sex (as with his wife, our mothers) and those of the same sex.
As for the mother figure, for us guys she serves as the model for the significant other and how we relate to them. Scientists have found that for some creatures, such as birds, the first nurturing thing that they see they assign `mother’. One bird, the first thing it saw was a ping-pong ball, and it imprinted the ping-pong ball as `mommy’. When young, they it would follow around the ping-pong ball and try to nurse from it. When it reached sexual maturity, it had no interest in females of its own species; it only got a rise out of ping-pong balls. Yeah, what a fetish. It only attempted to mate with what reminded it of its mother, and the security it felt around mother. I’ve noticed the qualities in the women I’ve become close to in my life echo many of yours, those that I admire and those that I detest with every ounce of hate juice in my dark little soul. All because it was too much pressure for mom to deal with a role she had elected for herself in the act of having me.
Let me be clear, however, that I find it quite conceivable that she was sincerely unhappy being queen bee, but I would bet anything it would not be for the reasons she would offer up as honest truth. Rather than an unrequited desire for partnership in parenting that thrust her into a position of direct authority, this was, as macabre as it may sound, really about the fact that my mother now had to work in the spotlight, whereas her true nature was rooted in her ability to work from the shadows, pressing the right buttons on her remote control and pulling the right strings, puppeteer-style.
Always a back seat driver when it came to authority, my mother was also a willing one, a stubbornly determined one, forever denying the wheel constantly offered to her. Evidently it is her self-appointed job to determine what’s right and it it your official duty to carry out what’s right, and clearly her right must be your right so why you’re so wrong is beyond her. She doesn’t want the responsibility, she doesn’t want to take the risk or deal with the potential fall-out or collateral damage, she just wants those above her to do it right and do it right now. This is why she has denied management at so many jobs, despite the many times she was asked in so many places. She was always a good worker, always well-respected, to the point where she had super-normal abilities, like telling off a boss only to have him apologize a day later.
My mother is no fool, far from it; it is only that she has a power-hungry, control-thirsty ego to constantly attend to and rarely invested the effort in contending with. It was only her self-centered nature and its supporting limited capacity for empathy. For instance, while complaining about the absence and non-authoritarian nature of my father in his role as parent, she overlooked a few things. Apparently she was blind to the fact that he had to work in order to support a five-member household. This ignorance was further exemplified every countless time she threw a guilt trip on him when he worked overtime, which he took whenever he could in our youth because we needed money.
While she did seem to understand his childhood was particularly harsh and his father was not much of a father to him, it is always brought up in reference to his service in the Army. Specifically, she says that since his father was never much of a father to him, he had to join the Army in order to learn how to be a man. What she still saw lacking, evidently, was what it meant to be in a father role. The lack she perceived was a side-effect of her apparent incapacity to register any other style of fathering than the one perfectly fitting the mould of what she considers fatherhood to be in her by necessity limited experience in not only fathering but being fathered. She has never been a father, clearly, but nor has she been fathered by any other father but the father she had, and this father of hers did whatever her grandmother said. It wasn’t his central authority she wanted, for then she would be in the role of her own mother toward her father and her father towards her own grandmother — a role which she had despised. She wants the role of her grandmother, because that was the only role her young self knew of actual power and control.
In a way she began treating my father like her grandmother treated her own father. Unsurprisingly, mom became an artist about getting dad involved, and putting him smack dab in the middle of it all, always putting him between the biggest rock, biggest hard place. When mom and I were at war, mom would seem to put him in the role of mediator, but what she really wanted out of him was a medium. To lay down the law she wrote out so he could be the bad guy even though it was all her idea. She was only upset because dad didn’t let her or didn’t even really get that she wanted him to be a medium for her demands, but actually tried to work in the capacity of a mediator.
He did his damnedest to restore balance and satisfy both parties. Sometimes he drifted towards my side of the argument, to the anger of my mother; other times, to my absolute rage, he drifted towards her side. He was still aiming on bringing us together. My father was always willing to hear you out. He would listen to all sides of the story and try to find some place where people could meet in the middle. Dad is an empathic, caring individual to such an extreme extent that it falls into fault, as he becomes the pushover, the fall guy, the carrier of burdens. His interest is and has always been to keep the peace, to make everyone happy, which is why he so often finds himself in the role of the mediator, and that was always the case when it came to my mother and I for as long as I lived with them.
My mother, of course, was never happy with this empathic approach. Without reservation, my mother would ceaselessly and openly declare to my father, often with what I considered to be unrelenting viciousness, that he was too easy-going, that he never put his foot down and that he always made her out to be the bad guy. I would complain that he was letting her control him like a puppet. I hated how she treated him. He wasn’t the bad guy, but she always made him the bad guy in her eyes and undoubtedly often enough in his own. My mother never forced my father to make a decision, she forced him into executing her decision. He loved her as much as she loved him, but he never used that love against her, and this was a routine practice against dad in her case.
She always knew the right buttons to push, with him and without doubt with me. Often she was direct, but her real art was subtlety. She knew my weak spots, she knew my buttons, and she loved to poke and push them. She reveled at kicking me when I was down. when I was climbing, she got some gratification out of kicking the ladder from beneath my feet. She was always great at pissing me off, depressing me and making me feel worthless, and the years of experience just allowed her to more fully develop and fine-tune her wicked strategies. I often envied my father’s status and wondered why it was he would not put his foot down.
If we’re counting faults, of course my father wasn’t perfect. There are things that I really wish he would have done, as perhaps they would have eased my fears of the world out there beyond the safety of the parental wing, the nest they provided me. All throughout my youth, to my teenage years, to three decades after my birth, the terror of going it alone remains. Ignorant I have always been, and always acute aware of that ignorance. I remember wondering to myself many times in my youth how it was I was going to make it out there when I’m older, when I have to make it on my own, when I know I’m running low on what I should know and I’m already afraid. Dad thought he was protecting me and being fatherly by doing things for me. I asked him to help me fix my car, change the oil, whatever, he’d tell me he’d show me and then he’d just do it for me. Never worked on it with me. Same with my taxes. Same with so many things. I left that house knowing nothing but if you don’t know how to do it, find someone that does or you’re screwed.
Dad did not help prepare me for the world outside his and mom’s care. Mom actually did more for me than dad in that respect, though I say that in a strictly cynical sense. After all, with her pulling rank, demanding unquestioning servitude, being an oppressive bitch, insisting on my social interaction, constraining me by nonsensical rules and assigning me monotonous chores that must be completed before I was to spend any free time alone, she prepared me for the work force. Gave me what I needed to be a grade-A low-wage fucking slave at bottom-of-the-barrel jobs. As for dad: yes, I wish he would’ve tried harder to work with me, not for me. But at least he wasn’t working against me.
Ultimately, my father never taught me how to learn, only how to be dependent. My mother never let me assert myself, only made me feel guilty for not being subservient enough. Though I see dad in a positive light and my mother in a negative one, and for what I consider good reason, and it deals with the nature of what dwelt behind these behaviors and attitudes. These emotions.
My father’s motivations in this case were out of ignorance and fueled by empathy, and my mother has told me herself that my father sees where he went wrong. How he should have worked with me one-on-one more when I was younger. He has self-awareness. Mom here, she just doesn’t get it. Or she won’t admit it. She expresses confusion over why I’m so angry. And it’s hard to fucking forgive when the person you’re trying to forgive won’t admit she was in the wrong in the first place. As for my mother’s motivations, I think they can be accurately described as out of malice and fueled by vengeance, and it took me a long time to figure out the nature of these emotions in her. In the end, it would seem that I had inherited these sins, to use a silly religious concept in a figurative sense, through what in the psychologies of Freud and Jung is known as transference.
Her brother, my Uncle Fred, was the eldest child and the only son, and in her family — as was the case with many families back then, so said my mother — the popular and traditional perception was that the first child, especially if it was a boy, was a “golden child” that could do no wrong. Her entire life, she grew up never being able to measure up to her brother. Early on in my childhood, my mother explained to me how she decided that my sisters were not going to be treated any less than me, and that I, the first child and only son, would not be singled out as a “golden child” as her own brother had. While one might suspect this to mean that my sisters and I would be treated equally, which I find quite clearly to be the most rational and ethical approach, this did not turn out to be my mother’s angle, as much as she might express it as being the case. Instead, I was singled out. I was singled out because I was the first and only son, just as her brother had been the first and only son. As a consequence, I was a prime candidate for serving as an indirect form of vengeance upon her brother.
What did not seem to help matters is that my father’s father and stepmother were about as bad as my mother’s parents in this respect. I recall her disdain for this fact, as she had told me about it when I was young. I learned that the birthday cards my grandparents on my father’s side sent every year, in which there was always money, was a practice of theirs which was exclusive to me. They would show no signs of even remembering the birthdays of my two younger sisters, let alone send them anything, which understandably angered my mother. As a consequence, she would buy cards for them on their birthdays and forge my grandparents’ signatures so they wouldn’t know.
Her mother did not go that far, though I do recall that until her death grandma would basically wait on Fred hand and foot. When they were all over for the holidays she would always ask him if he wanted coffee and would bring it to him when he did; she would always fetch him a plate of cake when dessert was served and so on. For mom, she never seemed to do this. To his credit, he showed some irritation with it, but whether this stemmed from the fact that she made him feel incapable and insulted herself through doing it or whether he only did this to ease the anger he knew my mother felt towards him and which would only grow if he openly took advantage of it, I cannot be certain. Just after my grandmother died, however, I remember Fred coming down from where he was living in Cincinnati to visit and my mother announced to the house that the coffee was done. As he sat down on the sofa-chair to read his book, he said, perhaps absent-mindlessly, that he would have a cup. My mother couldn’t let the opportunity slide.
“Get it yourself,” she said to him. “Your mother’s dead.”
And yet still she asks me how I can be so angry at her after so long.