Published on November 14th, 2014 | by Richard Black0
Continuing the Cycle of Dysfunction or How to Inadvertently Screw Up Your Children for Life
Most kids have a first word that’s kind of cute like “mama” or “dada”.
My daughter’s first word was “door”.
I’ve tried not to read too much into that and I’d encourage you not to either. Instead of mumbling the syllables “mamamamama” or dadadadada” incessantly my daughter chose a new path and one implying that she wanted to leave our home at the age of 18 months.
My first word was “hot”. That’s right. “Hot”. And it was quickly followed by a lot of screaming.
Being a slow child I don’t recall the actual event. Fortunately my parents fill me in on the details every time we get together and I do something remarkably stupid which, to be honest, is fairly often.
According to legend I was just a young tot at an age when I couldn’t really walk. The “Cruising Phase” as it’s known. I’d stumble around for a few steps before lurching towards any stationary object and then leaping for another sometimes not so stationary object fourteen feet away with a lot of sharp angles at eye level.
As the story goes I was in the kitchen with my mother who had just turned on the burner of the electric range, heating the coils to a cheery orange color (and one that would not be in any way attractive to a toddler) before she left the room.
Her parting words were, and I quote, “Richard don’t touch. Hot, Hot.”
You don’t have to be a therapist to intuit the rest of the story. The minute mom left the kitchen I cruised my way across the counter, to the stove and planted my fat, stubby little fingers right on the candy colored and searingly hot ass burner.
In retrospect this was pretty typical of my parents’ instruction. Much in the same manner God introduced Adam and Eve to the Tree of Knowledge and then instructed them to not taste of the Forbidden Fruit my parents would introduce an item or thought, caution me about its evils and presumably sit back with a box of popcorn and a six pack while they watched the comedy unfold.
It was in this way that my mother and father systematically ruined every pleasurable activity I could ever conceive of engaging in for the rest of my foreseeable life.
“Sex is a beautiful and private thing that two people share with each other,” my mother said while giving me “The Talk”. “Don’t do it before you’re married though. If you do you will catch AIDS and die from cancer, unless you catch something worse that makes you explode. By the way if you ever get anyone pregnant I’ll kick you out of the house and disown you. But sex is really great. Do you have any questions?” she’d finish up.
I did of course but most of them involved technique and I felt that as a 25 year old man we’d be entering some creepy terrain if I brought them up.
To this very day, even with the help of powerful pharmaceuticals, I can’t imagine having sex without hearing my mother describe how “magical” the experience can be or concerned that my penis might spontaneously explode. It’s ruined me as a lover and I have a list of references to prove it if you don’t believe me. Bringing parents into the bedroom is always a bad idea unless of course you’re into that sort of thing and you’re all consenting adults.
For the record I’m not into that sort of thing and, rather than dwell on that remarkably uncomfortable topic, I’ll move on to another.
Since the age of thirteen or so I haven’t been able to take a shower that lasts longer than five minutes. I grew up in a home with six siblings, five of whom were boys, which wasn’t much of a problem until we all hit puberty within about two months of each other. as six or seven a day. Our zest for hygiene did not go unnoticed. I’m not saying that my father was anti-masturbation but he certainly didn’t give us any reason to think otherwise.
Then again he probably just wanted some “shower time” for himself in water that wasn’t marginally above freezing. Whatever the reason one day my father announced that “shower” time would be limited to once a day and last no longer than five minutes. Any infraction incurred a few stern knocks on the door as a warning before the old man stormed into the bathroom and ripped the shower curtain back to inform the offending party that shower time was over.
Every once in a while, when I wonder why so many of my brothers have developed a penchant for semi public sex, I remember that they were interrupted every other day for five years in the act of self gratification by the stern face of my father. In retrospect it’s something short of amazing that more of them aren’t dating some well-heeled man named Lance a few decades their senior.
In addition to destroying the pleasures of a nice hot shower my father’s interventions haven’t helped me in the bedroom and I’m not talking about sleeping. I still tend to “shower” pretty quickly. In the past I considered giving women I’ve “showered” with a form letter addressed to my father with a checklist detailing my failings in the sack and demanding restitution. To date no one has received any money or even a response but I remain hopeful. I’m sure the three women I slept with in college are as well.
As the member of a large family hot water wasn’t the only staple in short supply. I’m fairly certain that when I’m 97 and sucking down a bowl of pureed soylent green I’ll still hear my father bitching about how I quickly I hork down my food. “Don’t eat all of that. Your brothers need to eat too and they have a chance at going to college so they’ll need their strength.”
I could describe a few other tidbits of dubious wisdom my parents have doled out over the years that contributed to the collection of neurosis that is me and, now that I think about it, I think I will.
“Sleep is the most important thing for boys your age. You need more. Stop staying up so late. If you don’t get enough sleep you’ll screw up your brain. It’s still developing. At least I think it is.”
“You’re sleeping too much. Depressed people sleep all the time. Are you depressed? You’ve been spending an awful lot of time in your room now that we’ve limited shower time to five minutes. Is that what you’re depressed about?”
“You need to exercise, why don’t you play any sports? I’ll bet you could find a girlfriend if you played sports or even a nice boy.”
“You’re playing too many sports. The coach says that he would give you an “A” for showering if it were an event…”
“Alcohol should only be enjoyed in moderation,” was my favorite bit of wisdom handed down to me by my father. The man didn’t drink to excess but he’d always have a few after work and maybe another few after being around his wife and six children for the evening. His comment was immediately followed by some quip from my mother or stepmom about how underage drinking leads to self abuse, heroin and possibly herpes once we ended up turning tricks for a shot of smack.
There really wasn’t a single facet of my life that wasn’t, or isn’t, somehow tainted by my parent’s apparent well meaning but remarkably damaging advice. In response, when I went to college, I gained about a hundred pounds, embarked on a lifelong habit of heavy drinking and consumed or smoked enough drugs to render me incapable of determining how to get out of bed most mornings and a darkened bathroom or broom closet on others. FYI I’ve found that turning around and heading towards the light to be helpful. Ironically those were the same words I heard my mother say when I was suffering from pneumonia at the age of four and had stopped breathing.
These days I’ve acclimated to the fact that my mental well being is a lost cause. My main concern is how to avoid inflicting the same sort of damage on my daughter. My mother and father weren’t monsters. They didn’t beat me within an inch of my life every time I pissed on the toilet seat or got my brothers expelled from high school (both of which were not infrequent events). They were fairly strict as far as parents go. I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts to school for some reason I’m still unable to fathom but their rules generally made sense even though I didn’t care , or even follow, many of them.
Now that I have a child I understand that most parents inevitably screw up their kids. We don’t mean to but it happens and that’s because raising children is terrifying. Watching your child wait for the bus for the first time or ride the merry-go-round or do anything without your direct supervision is an act of trust in your child’s capabilities, your abilities as a parent and the world at large.
“Having children is like having your heart away from you,” my mother has often said. Now that I have a child I can see that she was right.
I’m also certain her statement was a passive aggressive way of riddling me with guilt about not visiting more often or my failure to show up to Thanksgiving a few years ago. I don’t blame her. It’s natural for parents to be upset when children don’t meet their unrealistic expectations. I only hope I can be a bit more forgiving when Darcy forgets my birthday or to pick up my insulin some twenty years from now.