Saturday, July 26, 2008

Parental baggage

Have your parents ever embarrassed you? I'm talking about something they did to you when you were a kid? My dad was forever putting me on display. Every time we had company, he would make me sit down at the piano to play the latest song I'd learned.

Or he would haul out the Bible (King James Version) and pick out something for me to read. Of course it was never something that would be easy and familiar. He liked to pick passages from Judges or Lamentations. Or once I started memorizing Bible verses, he would stop the conversation at the dinner table, snap out a reference, "John 3:16!" and I was supposed to quote the Bible verse for him.

Once he knew that I could carry a tune--and sing harmony--then I was expected to sing duets for the church services. The more complicated the better. And as a teenager, I played the piano for church. Dad played the violin. More duets.

I'm not angry with my Dad. But I know him very well. And I know that he would find it irresistible to brag about his daughter the writer. The trouble in this case is that what I write is not exactly the type of thing he could brag about. So that explains my decision not to tell him about my late life career. Unfair though it may be, congregations tend to tar ministers with their children's sins. In this case, it would possibly mean a loss of income for my retired parents--a loss that they can ill afford.

On the other hand, after living with a parent that was anxious to showcase his kids, I determined that I would never do that to my own children. I love them. I'm proud of them. I'll gladly support them through thick and thin. But I refuse to live my life through their accomplishments. I especially never asked them to perform.

There was a nursery rhyme that had my real name in it. My dad was forever spouting out that little rhyme. Now that I actively hated. I asked him not to do it, but I think he never quite caught just how much I despised it. To this day, whenever we meet, I know that is one of the things I will hear.

And I swore that I would never do that do my kids either. Actually, each one of my kids went through a phase when they asked to be called something other than the name they'd been called since birth. Sort of like naming your kid William but calling him Billy. Around twelve or thirteen, they would announce that they wanted to be called Will. Okay. I felt that there are real reasons why kids want to change their names. And they should have the right to be called whatever they want--within reason.

I think that embarrassment at the hands of a parent is far worse than any other kind. It leaves a mark on us that we never quite erase. Whether it's a remark in public about our choice of clothing or our behavior or our accomplishments, it leaves a blemish on our heart and soul. That's the kind of baggage that we never unload. We may shift it to a new spot so that it's easier to cart around. But it's still there.



  1. How true and good for you for trying to spare your kids. Happy Saturday!

  2. My great-grandparents did that to my grandma; she was expected to play the piano whenever they had company. Therefore, she never encouraged my mother's musical ability, and in turn, my own was resisted until age 12.

    As far as the writing, it's taken my mom 5 years to admit she's proud of what I've accomplished.

  3. Hmmm-I usually ask my kids not to drop the f-bomb when there's company--does that count?

    After being a parent, I do find I have more sympathy for my own--but no, there are still things they did that I'd never pass along.

  4. Ooooo I totally understand that. My parents weren't teasing but my friends had parents that were downright evil. I watched it eat at one of them.

  5. My parents never ever embarassed us. There sole aim was for us to succeed in life. We're still trying

  6. My parents didn't do anything to embarrass me.

  7. My mother was infamous for saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong moment, when we were kids and now. Like blurting out at her birthday party last year to me and a friend of the family's who was only a couple of years older than me, "Did you two ever___? I know you must have." I'll leave it to your imagination to fill in that blank. This was called out in a room full of family including his fiance and my SO. And the answer is no.