Friday, May 25, 2012

Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations*

"Well son, don't even try. I'll always be better."
You know it doesn't matter how old, successful, rich or fabulous you become, a single well constructed phrase by a septuagenarian parent can make you revert to that frustrated little child who couldn't catch the ball when it was thrown at him.  It wasn't that I couldn't catch the ball, it's just that I didn't see the point of it. I was the kind of kid who liked to climb rocks and trees and wear his mother's make-up. While I still climb rocks and trees, make-up lost it's allure a long time ago.  

Yet on some level, I still seek my father's approval, or maybe his acceptance, or even praise.  My father is a very charismatic, interesting, fun individual: and therein lies the problem. He's all light and energy but still knows how to show you he's the dad.  While he charms you with his stories of his travels in Spain, or regales his life in the glamorous travel industry, he's waiting. He's  looking for a moment to make a turn of phrase intended as a casual aside. A short phrase that makes it clear that whatever you accomplish in life, he'll make sure that it doesn't equate to anything he's done. It will be a comment that is missed by the entire party, an offhand remark directed at you that says "I'll always be better than you".

This weeks phrase: "Oh, you work for a company? I thought you just went out and knocked on doors to sell your product. Like a an independent contractor." Basically, my successful run in software sales has just been reduced to a Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman or the Fuller Brush Man. 

When I realized I was gay, I felt I "opted out" of my parents expectations.  That I would be free to chose my own path because being gay erased all expectations that my parents might have had for me. Yet here I am at 44, just like when I was 14 torturing myself about what I had to do to meet his expectations. I realize now, he never really had any expectations of me, only that I do not eclipse him, in any way. 

Why when I leave any gathering with my parents that I have to remind myself that I am happy, successful,  have great friends, and a wonderful husband and family. I'm not defined by work, but I do a good job earn more money than I ever hoped to earn. I spend a week giving myself affirmations. I recall that my only real goal in life was not to be fat. 
44 years into this relationship with him, I realize that we could never be friends. I know this because I know him, I've been watching him for 44 years. Yet, we're family and family is about forgiveness and acceptance.  I'm sure I've got a few more years to work on that.....

*I chose the title from a phrase coined by Micheal Gerson used extensively by President George W. Bush. I chose this phrase because I think Bush is an asshole. You can extrapolate that into the current state of my paternal relationship.