Paul Curran is a Canadian who can be found commenting often on this blog and many others. He always has much to say, and I find him to be wise, funny and smart. Paul definitely caught my attention when he sent me a photograph of he and his golfing buddies after they’d dunked their cart in a pond up there north of our shared border. You can find my blog post with his photo here.
I’ve frequently urged Paul to start his own blog. He always says he’s not ready. However, he’s stuck his toe into guest-blogging waters with a regular Sunday “Cuppa” feature at willowdot21’s place across the big pond. I’m a regular reader there, of her work and his Sunday Cuppa posts, where he reflects upon world events, Canadian happenings, and life as he sees it. You can find Willow’s blog here. You can find his latest post here.
Last week, one of Paul’s comments to my review of “The Judge” did not show up on the post, and our emails afterward resulted in his accepting my offer to write the guest post below instead. Lucky us.
She has always been an enigma to me – seldom understood and better left alone. Interactions result in explosions. I recently read Mark’s post and review on “The Judge” and the relationship between the father and his son reminds me a lot of my relationship with my Mum. WordPress ate my comment on the post and when I inquired of Mark if he had seen it, perhaps in his spam folder, he suggested that I write a guest post. I pondered this for a bit and realized that I had never actually thought much about this relationship – I’d only ever reacted, and seldom positively.
My Mum (she has asked to be called that, the Canadian “Mom” not being to her liking) is a complex person. I honestly can’t say that I love her but I have found that her approval means a great deal to me – perhaps more than it should. That being said, I seldom did as she asked, preferring to cut my own path through the world. When I would present my successes to her, she bypassed them without comment and then proceeded to criticize my choices and achievements. Always. This interaction basically defined our relationship.
It never occurred to me to wonder why this was so and perhaps in hindsight it would have served me better to investigate this sooner than now. I now know, after a few days of pondering, that all the clues were there – I was just too busy reacting to pay attention to how and why the relationship was structured as it was. You see when my Mum retired she wrote a book about her early years growing up in Nova Scotia. Her reasons for doing so were mixed but, in part she said that it was to allow young girls to recognize bad situations and inform them of what abuse looked like and that they weren’t alone in their situations. For my Mother was abused as a child. She was the youngest of a family of eight and her father was an alcoholic. He would often drink away the family food money and would be gone for days before returning home drunk to beat the children and his wife. Mum did not mention sexual abuse in the book, but it seemed to me that it was an unspoken part of her story. The book was never published but I did get to read a copy – for me it was enthralling as it was my family history. Perhaps because there are so many such stories out there as our society deals more with abuse that a publisher never picked up the manuscript.
My parents married at 25 and I was born the next year. My Mum worked part time once I was in school and I often stayed with neighbors or baby sitters. Being an only child, it made child care a little easier. Although I lived primarily in the world of adults, I did have a few good friends. Once I reached about 12, my Mum decided to go back to school.
This part of my Mother’s life is one which I think is amazing and she does not like me to tell. She has chastised me upon occasion for telling the story but I think it is inspirational. When I was born, my Mother did not have her high school diploma. She decided to go back to school and got her GED (General Education Development – or high school equivalency). After that she decided to do an undergrad degree in social work. She worked for a few years and then did a Masters in social work. While she was studying, my parents divorced and my Mum moved to Ontario when she was done with her degree. She ran a Children’s Aid Society branch in St. Catherine’s, just west of Toronto.
At this point Mum came to the realization that as much as her work was important she was inevitably called on to help the children after the damage had been done. She wanted to have more of a say in how child welfare laws were developed in Canada in order to prevent child abuse, not just react to it. So, in her 50s, she went back to university and earned a PhD in social work with a specialization in child abuse. Her thesis was published as a text book and is used still as required reading material for some graduate social work courses. She was hired as a professor at UBC (University of British Columbia) and reigned there until her retirement. She did a lot of consulting work for the government and the judiciary of BC and helped to rewrite their child care laws. When she retired she was doing precisely what she had wanted to do with her life – a life that had been informed by her childhood abuse. She never wanted another child to have to go through what she had gone through.
In order to achieve what she had achieved, my Mum took complete control of her life. She didn’t believe there was any higher power or meaning outside of her actions and the actions of others (if there was a God how could he allow children to be abused?). She drove herself to meet her goals and viewed every thing that happened to her as under her control and/or caused by her and her alone. She seldom showed much emotional interaction with me as I was growing up and I have complained to her before that I often felt emotionally abandoned as a child. I was never mistreated and had whatever I needed to prosper except emotional ties.
I have had an unusual life in that I have wandered a great deal, experiencing life and enjoying it while still working. Mum always said that my choices were beneath me and that I could do better. It certainly seemed as if she was judging my life the same way she judged her own life. I owned and operated tractor trailers and traveled North America. She looked down on my accomplishments, having my own business, as blue-collar and worthless. Sigh. This attitude resulted in many arguments as I often called her judgmental and elitist. As my life progressed I was diagnosed with cancer – and I got the feeling she thought that was my fault as well. I take responsibility for any of my actions, but not that which is out of my control. The arguments continued – for her anything that happens to anyone is their own fault as we are completely in control of our own lives. This was an attitude she developed to deal with her abuse as a child (it must be my fault – something I did that caused this) and then leveraged to beat all odds and many years later become a professor who helped write child welfare laws.
This belief of hers – that all is controlled by the individual and that those who fail to reach the higher levels of our society are failures – has put between us a wall that is insurmountable. Last year in one e-mail conversation I mentioned in passing that my phone charger had stopped working. Her response was –“What did you do to break that?” It sits on my bedside table and I plug in the phone at night – there is no way to break it, it just stopped working. Every conversation is filled with jabs and pokes and judgment like that. It is continuous and intolerable. I point it out and she apologizes and then continues to do it. When the radiation treatment for cancer caused kidney failure and I had to go on dialysis that was my fault as well.
I respect my Mum a great deal and think that she has achieved an amazing amount in her life after starting from an abusive family. I do not have the same philosophy in life and our differences are so great and fundamental that for my own mental health I have no choice but to not communicate with her. I have broken off communications numerous times in the past – all for the same reason – sometimes for years. I finally got so disgusted with her judgment that I last e-mailed her about 6 months ago. I don’t see much hope that our relationship will change.
Thank you, Paul, for choosing to take the time and effort to put your deep feelings about your relationship with your Mum into words and accepting my offer to to publish your post here after reading my review of “The Judge.” As I always do here, I am going to end the post with a series of questions. This time I will pin them to Paul’s heartfelt and serious post about this relationship.
Have you had to reinvestigate your relationship with your parents as you’ve grown older, and if so, what life events caused this reflection? Have you had to cut off a relationship with a parent or offspring because of behavior you could not tolerate over time, even after telling them of the effect it had on you, and if so, what was that behavior? How do you think cutting off a relationship with a nucleur family member like this would affect you?