I was taking another drive to New Jersey recently. Usually I listen to music, but I have been exploring podcasts. A friend recommended Marc Maron’s WTF, saying he was a good interviewer. He’s also a comedian so I thought there could be some laughs. I enjoy a good interview and laughing so I decided to check it out. (I agree with my friend; he is a good interviewer and I enjoyed the three podcasts I listened to – it is a long ride!).
Anyway, one of the comments he made got me thinking. He was relaying a story about family vacations. He did not remember them fondly (don’t worry, Mom, I remember ours very warmly). He talked about his family of four sharing one hotel room and in that cramped space they got on each other’s nerves. He mentioned that they didn’t know each other that well. He pointed out that they were probably all too self-absorbed in their day-to-day life and didn’t actually know each other. When they were thrown together in the confines of a single hotel room, it could get unpleasant.
The idea of not really knowing your own family gave me pause. On the one hand, I would have said that we knew each other quite well. We were a close family; we spent a lot of time together. On the other, maybe not…. especially when I was younger. Most of my time with them was as a family unit, and we fell into certain roles. Dad was the disciplinarian. Mom was the one directing our activities. Mark was the instigator, looking to get a rise out of someone, mostly me. Steven was the sphinx, keeping to himself, getting along. I don’t know who I was – sometimes I know I was the whiner, “Mark touched me!” I would cry with great indignation.
I don’t mean to reduce us to one characteristic, but I think there is something to that. We still fall back into those roles.
I remember once when I was a young adult living in Albany, having already started my own family, Dad came to visit alone. He was attending a social studies conference at one of the hotels in the area. He stayed overnight at Gary and my house. It was all fine, but it felt odd. It isn’t that I never spent one-on-one time with my Dad. But that was when I was a kid. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I would go to watch him play tennis. I would ride with him to Marine Park, where he met his friends and they would play doubles. I would alternate between hitting a tennis ball against a wall and watching them play. On the way home, we’d stop for an egg cream. I remember enjoying those times, they are special memories for me.
I’m sure that was more time than some daughters get with their fathers. Yet, when he visited that time in Albany, it struck me that there was some awkwardness to it. Maybe it was because as an adult it had been years since it had just been us. Maybe we didn’t know each other as adults.
It wasn’t that he disappointed me in any way during that visit, or that it was unpleasant. I became aware, though, that our relationship was inextricably tied to our connection to my mother. I was more accustomed to spending time with them as a couple. It felt a bit weird to relate to him as an individual.
This notion was reinforced, years later, when my Dad died. I became aware that my relationship with my mother was changing. She was likely changing, after 50 years as a partner to Dad she needed to find her own path. I discovered different parts of her personality, as she may have been discovering different aspects of herself. It is hard to disentangle the varied strands – was she changing? Was I? was that who she had always been, but now I saw it?
I also think back on ideas I had about other family members. It’s funny how my understanding of our family has changed over the years. When I was young, I thought we were perfect. Then I went through a phase, not surprisingly, as a teenager, where I hated them (okay, hate is a strong word – they annoyed me profoundly). Then I got to college and realized I was so lucky to have two parents who communicated their love and care clearly, and an extended family that I was deeply connected to. As I grew into adulthood, I saw our family in more nuanced ways. I became aware of tensions that ran beneath the surface – not so much in our immediate family but with aunts and uncles. I realized that things were more complicated than they seem on the surface.
I remain deeply connected to my family. I continue to get to know them. How well do we know each other? I can’t answer that. I wonder what others experience in their families. Do you know each other?
6 thoughts on “Family”
Linda, your choice of subject matter really resonated with me this week. That we have such different relationships with immediate and extended family from childhood to adulthood. Like you, I have a very close family. A favorite parlor game between my cousins and I years ago was psychoanalyzing all our aunts and uncles. As if it was really possible to do this, as we are all complicated human beings with many facets to our personalities and psyches. One of the more enjoyable aspects to getting older is being able to forge friendships with aunts and uncles in addition to the familial connection. And that is truly a gift.
Yes, it is. Thanks for sharing.
As always your blog inspires thoughtful analysis. Here are my comments in no particular order of import.
1. Although I never felt more comfortable with one parent as opposed to the other, once dad died,my and I think our view of mom necessarily changed. She was now no longer part of a couple; and because of that our very vision of her needs and who she was was assessed by us as never before. Probably typical. As our lives progress we necessarily think differently. When we were kids…. self centered much more so than now. Our parents were there for us; now, things change a bit(it is the child taking parent to the appointment).
2. Your categorizing Steven as a sphinx. I have to laugh. He is more introverted than you (or of course me) . Ask him what he thinks. He will tell you. Just not as apt to volunteer. You have an inquenchable thirst to understand. I find that endearing but I bet it can be frustrating.
3. I like Leah very , very much.
4. Our memory, in one regard differs. You give an example of me as an instigator (correct) and you can even accurately state that (as part of my immaturity) I would go out of my way to tease you. But, I do not think you complained that mark would touch or hit you. That’ just was not my style. (Unless what you are referencing is the 3 of us being cramped in the back seat of the car, in which case that was a source of stress to you. But you must acknowledge that I would take pains to explain to you that I was at risk of getting the cooties and not you. (I think science has proven me correct that girls and not boys carry the cooties).
Can’t wait for next weeks blog so I can ruminate again.
I agree with your assessment vis-a-vis Mom. And, I get what you are saying about Steven, though when we were kids I didn’t understand that. Lastly, I was thinking about being in the car or some other similar situation where you might brush against me. You did not ever hit me or pinch me or do that kind of thing. Maybe putting up bunny ears behind my head was as physical as it got. But, you lived to tease me verbally – or at least that appeared to be the case. And you were quite good at it.
I shared a bedroom with my brother growing up. I understood a number of facts about him. I knew that he could tease me. I knew that he didn’t watch the Met games. I knew he could fix things that nobody else I knew could fix. I had no idea who he was and what made him tick. To be fair, at that age, I didn’t much care about anything outside myself. Now, all these years later, I can say with certainty that he still doesn’t watch the Mets on tv. I’m starting to think he had it right all along.
I thought you were going to say something profound. You did make me laugh. It took a while for you to come to that conclusion.