My Dad phoned. Said that he wanted to see me. Said that he had something that would put joy back in my life. I said OK, and arranged to call round later in the day.
But I knew what was coming, and I did not want to be there. I knew that my sister must have phoned him and that, as my husband says Churchill said, my Dad always carries the imprint of whoever has sat on him last. And my sister had already tried to get round my husband, and to have access to my analyst. So I phoned again and said that if he was going to persuade me to see my sister then I did not want to come.
He said that he had found pictures of me as a child, and I look happy in all of them. He thought I’d like to see them. He said that I had said some horrible things about my mother and he had been very upset to hear them. He said that my problem was that I had too much time on my hands, and that I always wanted to be perfect and I still resented not being sent to a private school like my sister . He said that he was worried about my analyst and whether he was messing with my brain. He said that he was worried that I was damaging my family and that ‘a source’ said my older daughter was being damaged by seeing me crying all the time.
Oh, Dad, where do I start?
If I ever, ever was upset about my sister going to a private school and my grammar school education, I grew out of that many, many years ago. Of course, now that I have my own children, I can see that there is a world of difference between a state education and a private education, but I do not remember it feeling like that at the time. I did not enjoy school, but then my school was made up of a bevvy of dried up old spinsters teaching in freezing portacabins twelve miles by sickening bus from where I lived, and I was a small dwarf in a class of giants, all older than me, and some a great deal older than me. Precociousness has its downside.
As for my daughter being upset by seeing me cry,
a) that is normal
b) but it’s only happened about three times in her life
c) and the last time was when my sister accused me of being a judgmental witch damaging my godson and his two siblings by not seeing his mother who had run off with her lover who, in turn, had left a small baby and three children, when, in point of fact, I had bent over backwards to continue to provide some semblance of family belonging to the abandoned husband and his three children, with some degree of success since (as she now knows) none of them imagine Christmas complete if not spent at our house.
d) children can learn more from seeing their parent upset and getting over it, than they can from never seeing their parent cry
e) I bet “the source” was my sister (confirmed by you …)
f) so, basically, that’s a load of crap.
And then the analyst. So. First point. He was recommended by an elderly and highly regarded professor of psychology from Edinburgh. Secondly, he has written recently published a new book, the reviews of which draw attention to his national reputation, his standing as a lecturer on child attachment problems. Thirdly, I went to see a recently retired family psychologist to ask for further references for him. She confirmed that he is sound, that three of her friends have seen him personally, gone through the analysis process, and are happy with the outcomes. Fourthly, he is a proper psychiatrist and trained Freudian analyst and there are not too many of them around. Fifthly, he doesn’t so much tell me things as tell me what he thinks about what I’ve said, from a position of invisibility behind my head. Sixthly, I do not have the feelings of attachment hunger because I have been to see him, but I went to see him because of the feelings of what-I-now-know-to-be-attachment-hunger.
I have never said that my mother was a bad person. In many, many ways she was a good person. As you say, she was already ready to help anyone, and brought me up very well. I have never said that she did not love me. I have said that she was not able to love me as I needed to be loved. I wanted to be hugged, enveloped in a comforting embrace, praised. Ah, you say, but she was practical. She was. “Practical”, but not passionate. If she ever felt like smelling her children just above their ear, or running to meet them, or just plopping down beside them to watch television, she never showed it.
There is so much I could say, but all you want is to know that my mother was as you knew her to be. Your idea of my mother will always be just that – “your” experience of my mother. We will agree on some things, on many things about her, but you will never know what it was like to be her daughter, how that felt. And I will never know what it felt like to be her husband, though I suspect that you were mostly her son. Ouch. Shouldn’t have said that.
Anyway, do stop worrying about me resenting my state education. I cannot imagine that a private education would have made the important things any different, and I am happy with where I am, would not want to be anywhere else, and so I cannot wish away anything that has happened in the past, because it all shaped me, made me who I am, for better or worse.
Stop worrying, too, that I am some neurotic invalid. I function, I flourish and we are happy (as we can be given my sister hanging over me) in our little nuclear family. We’ve had quite a bit to deal with this year, but we’re OK. I’ve got two jobs, lots of interests, good friends, good health and lots of love. I’m OK. Next time my sister gets her knickers in a twist, point the finger at her.
We left it that I’d go and see the photos sometime, though it is about making him happy not me. So he can say “See, you did have a happy childhood. What are you making such a fuss about?”