The moment our children are born, we are fast forwarded. And I don’t mean in the terms of just responsibilities but everything. We are tagged as parents for life, within ourselves, everywhere else. Suddenly, a single , free-floating entity becomes a larger presence – a dad or a mom – dissolving the man or woman into a role that he/she may have a better version of in mind than in reality.
While reading a short story called Prodigal by Dan Chaon, I had mixed feelings. I wondered about the time when both of my parents were around and what that meant to me. Did I ever think of them beyond the bubble of providers, care takers, well-behaved, responsible people? Did they ever do anything that marked them as individuals A,B or C rather than my parents? Did I ever release them from the leash of being a parent and viewed them just as a man and a woman capable to do different things in life? And last but not the least, what were they as a couple – before and after? I guess, I can only match up their experience to mine of being a parent and assume that this is what happens with most of us.
We are our own parents and our kids too. The raw material changes hands with a few modifications, but in the end we all end up very much the same. We arrive at the same destinations that they have crossed, even the ones that we had sworn never to intersect, as kids. But we do. We hope that we will have a better understanding with our kids – that we will never discipline them for things we did not like ourselves or have a thriving, honest relationship but there always is a point when we realize that it cannot happen. We fail our kids the same way our parents had and they fail us one way or other as we did once. And then we start missing our parents who are either gone by that time or have a little time left. It dawns on us the meaning of “gap” – the limitation between generations and their constant struggle to cross it and live up to the promises they made to themselves when they held us in their arms for the first time. But they had to let themselves dissipate in time and let us go forward with the falsified notion of doing better with our offspring.
I remember the faces of my parents – the two, ordinary people who gave me life and everything they had. I look the same; I am doing the same. To this day, I don’t remember how many times my mother slapped me or yelled at me for wrong behavior or bad grades, but I do remember that she never let me down. She never passed any sarcastic comments to let me rot within my shortcomings – instead she confronted me. Sometimes, I yearned for her indifference than her anger, but there was none. And now face to face with my daughter – I see her reason; I see her courage to face the hatred of a child she loved dearly rather than ignoring her. Someday, when she is gone – I will weep about the loss that I cannot explain to even myself, let alone anyone.
Is this inevitable? The loss, the despair, the mystery of getting stuck into crevices from where even love cannot rescue us? Or is this something to stick to, to learn from, adapt and apply early on? Perhaps not. Even today, parenting remains the most challenging relationship than any other and no matter how many promises we make holding the folded fingers of our newborn – over time we realize that we are doing the same. We are the very nurturing, protecting caregivers to the best of our abilities as our parents were, as our ancestors were and as our kids will be. They will not see it now, for they are our children – ready to shoot out in the world once again vowing to be unique but they will return at this very point; ruminating this very thought that there is nothing better than this that they could ever do. Maybe, then they will realize how love actually works.
In the meantime, I highly recommend Dan Chaon and his short stories.