Why your family is always present in your life – even if you never see them.
Ah, family. You live your own life, but they are always in the background, even if you rarely see the, even if you don’t know them or don’t want to know them anymore. They are there, self-evidently, or they are self-evidently not there. And, no doubt, it influences the way you live your life. But how does that work exactly?
We play the roles of father and daughter
My dad and I didn’t have regular contact until I was 21 years old, and still, it doesn’t occur to him that I might need him, not spontaneously.
The key words are 'spontaneously’, here. We play the roles of father and daughter, and sometimes it seems real. But self-evident? No, it never is. Every once in a while, we forget about each other’s existence. Simply because we’re busy with other things.
He’s still your dad
By the way, as a child, I felt very normal. I didn’t miss out on anything. At the same time, I always felt like I had to defend myself. Why? In ‘complete’ families things weren’t all fun and games, were they?
When I was in my twenties, I lived in Paris for a while. I had a Dutch friend there whose father was a drinker. She had to pick him up from the pub drunk, again and again, him whining in her arms that he really loved her. What a mess.
‘Yeah well,’ she said acquiescing, and then she spoke the words I never forgot, because they are still the wisest thing I ever heard anyone say about this matter: ‘He is still my dad. And there’s only one of him. It is what it is, you deal with it.’
You deal with it
At the same time, there is an aspect to family that makes me tend to avoid the topic. If I’m truly honest, I think: I did miss out on something as a child. For instance all the times I lied awake when I had to do hold a speech at school.
You deal with it. In another situation you would have done the same. But how would that have turned out? Would I have made different choices? Had different relationships? Sometimes I feel like telling my dad alla bout it. If he had just been there, my life would have been different. I would have been a better person. Much better!
There is an end date for reproach
There is an end date for reproaching your parents how your life went, said J.K. Rowling – because even Harry Potter is about the role and influence of family. It’s not about what it could have been like, but about how you relate to what it ís like. That’s difficult. But it also means you keep getting new chances to look at the relationship. As you move on your time line, your perspective on your parents and grandparents changes.
A father who didn’t help out when you had to speech at school, turns out to be a good help when you have to give a lecture, simply because he turns out to have a self-evident faith in you. And for some reason, it compensates for all his absence you didn’t even know you felt.
What do you pass on?
Then the wheel turns again. You have your own family now, and you are on the other side of the line. What do you pass on?
My children do have a father, one who was always there and cooked and took them to soccer games, so in the cosmic wheel of things, that’s a great step forward. And there’s something beautiful about that. That every time, there’s a new round, and that each round is a bit better. Or not. But eat least there’s always a new generation taking over. You do the best you can to pass on something good. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t. But they deal wit hit, the way you dealt wit hit.
What do I inherit from my dad, I wondered recently, apart from the blue eyes and a load of books? Perhaps it’s this: being able to accept you make mistakes, and being willing to fill the holes where you dropped some stitches. Perhaps that’s the most important lesson you learn in the family school: being kind towards your parents makes you kinder towards yourself.
Text: Anne Wesseling - Photo: Tim Mossholder