The image a child has of his father is that of brawn. A monument to all that is good and strong in the world, an eternal force that will watch over them and theirs.
The image a child has of her mother is that of care. A testament to beauty and love’s fragrance made manifest, the one person on Earth that deserves to remain oblivious of pain.
Children are not supposed to be strong. Children are not supposed to be challenged in the ways that adults are. That is the burden of the parent. And it is how the parent handles these burdens, either with grace or gritted teeth, that a child learns how to live.
Regardless of whether or not these lessons are a boon or are things they will spend the rest of their lives trying to unlearn, they will be remembered.
My childhood tasted of mangoes. Their sticky flesh, bursting with juice and sweetness. I remember how I used to devour them by the bowl, how much my grandmother enjoyed cutting them apart for me and my sister to eat.
I remember my mother telling me I was eating too much. I remember the embarrassment I felt when I couldn’t wear the same clothes as all the other kindergarteners, how unnatural I felt in a child’s XL.
I was a good student, though. I was always a pleasure to have in class. My teachers loved me. I consistently scored at the top of my class, in every class.
My father knew this too. He knew it so well, in fact, that he promised to reward me whenever I did excel. And I did.
But when the day came to keep up his end of the bargain, to buy me that shiny new bauble or the latest video game.
I remember the realization the most. Disappointment was there, yes, and so was frustration, sulking in the corner. But realization was front and center, taking the lead. Offering itself up so that the others might live.
I remember realizing, “Of course. This is my job. This is what I’m supposed to do.”
My father got no praise for his labor. Neither did my mother. In compensation they came home to a house full of chores and a mailbox full of bills. And
I hate children. I hate how useless they are. How incapable they are of the most basic things. They can’t be trusted to watch over themselves. They can’t pay for groceries, even with someone else’s money. They can’t read and explain what the paperwork is saying, even though they spend hours a day learning English, even if they can speak English fluently.
They can’t cook anything. They can’t pay attention long enough to learn how to do something on their own. They’re slow and complain in every imaginable situation. They’re always hungry and tired, and exhausted, and their feet hurt, even when they don’t do anything but go to school.
I don’t want any children of my own.
Everything that my parents taught us has lead to that conclusion. Children are fickle, ungrateful devils. They don’t listen and they don’t care. They are unceasingly cruel, so caught up in the throe of their own lives that they can’t even see the chaos that lies in front of them, the pain that lurks just below their loved one’s faces.
Children are selfish, stupid creatures.
But they are children.
They don’t need to understand how to care for themselves. They have no jobs. No duties. No responsibilities. They are the charges of the oldest people in the house, not a smaller pair of helping hands.
Everyday I have to unlearn what my parents taught me.
First I learned that it wasn’t my fault. That it was never my fault.
Then I learned that I deserved more. I had a right to be angry.
Next I accepted that my parents weren’t going to change. And that was okay. I didn’t have to change them either.
And then I realized that my parents are just people. They are no different from the children they raised. My father is just as scared and unprepared for random chance as I am. My mother wishes she had money for her actual style just as I do.
Our parents aren’t invincible. They are not superheroes. They are not pillars of excellence or martyrs bearing an eternal cross. They are people like the children they birthed, like the ones they raised.
Years of resentment and self-loathing make this difficult to see. The anger has made it a pattern, the norm. The default state of all things.
But sometimes, as I remember that my parents are people too, I can see that they are the same children vying for their fathers’ love. Crying for their mother’s warmth.
It is there, in the reality of our world, but it hides itself. Still that scared child, forty years later.
It is buying everything bagels and sour cream.
It is calling grandpa and telling him to switch to Channel 4. Then hanging up and watching the game.
It is in how they hug me, how tightly they squeeze when they remember all the things they weren’t supposed to do. When they realize they have become all the things that they hated about their parents.