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Parents

1961 M+DAs a writer, I keep thinking I’m done with harvesting my family. But we’re never done, are we? I keep finding more and more of myself every time I muse on these matters. Around every corner I seem to have friends struggling with their aging parents. I try to offer an ear or even occasional advice while respecting the worlds people have created for themselves. That’s hard for me; inside, I’m quick to judge un-planful, intransigent old people and un-planful unassertive middle-aged children. As I watch these ballets, occasionally I think again about the commandment to honor father and mother.

I was precocious in my sense of not being understood, putting up, shutting up, complaining and resenting–I didn’t wait for the teen years. What did it mean to honor my father and mother? Bowing and scraping? That didn’t sound right.I assumed the meaning would come clear at some future time.These biblical inculcations were bold strokes of literature meant for all ages: a large tale told against the tiny facts of my life.

Today I have memories and hand-me-downs from Mom and Dad. I find the bit of learning—the fond memory and the noble act—and I embrace it in the tale told. It can be a quiet, private thing. Sometimes I’ve made it a public thing, splashing it across my website and my stages. Is this what the commandment means? Rediscover, share and perpetuate?

When my parents were still here for me, I asked and avoided, I listened and ignored. When I became a parent, all that programming poured from my firmware and wanted control. Would I live the legacy or change it? Would I be blind? conscious? fearful? or defiant? I retraced those steps right down to the words and deeds that had made me shudder a few short decades before–”because I said so” or “you just have to do it, you don’t have to like it.”

“That’s not me speaking.”

Oh, but it was. Those words oozed from lymph and bile.

Now my baby is grown and my mother and father are shadows. I have a little reflective distance on parenting from both ends. This is what it tells me: to honor my father and my mother I am commanded FROM becoming them, either blindly or slavishly, even if that’s what it might seem that they wanted, even if my DNA is headed there. After all–they were careful to make their own personaes. Instead, I can work with or at least acknowledge the opportunities my parents provided for me. I can be grateful they did their best. When they rattle through my brain particularly loudly, I can give them a time out as I might lovingly give an over-wrought child.

We are each marked by the hard knocks that have come our way. We can go ahead and pass on those gashes, even though we yearn to leave the damage and the fear behind. Nobody wants to foster a legacy of fear. Yet, the hard knocks stoke our anxiety and bring on all those fearful warnings. To honor, I would like to examine the materials I feed into the scold machine: let me keep the love and discard the nagging. I won’t become you, Mother or Father, but I’ll try hard to be my best self. I will look at the difficulties of parenting, of life, and offer a bit of compassion to myself and to others. I will look into my heart to touch the memories you placed there. I will live now, both a part of and apart from you.