July 21st, 2012
Women and their mothers, sons and their fathers
Writers are driven by the powerful relationships in their lives. The ones that wake us, challenge us, taunt us. The relationships that trouble us. Keep us up at night. The ones that we can’t wrap our heads around. The easy relationships are not the stuff of drama.
In Gone with the Wind and most of the books by Faulkner, the relationships with Blacks in the South are made simplistic because the Blacks are not really members of the family and thus they function in set hierarchal roles that do not shift much.
The relationships with power change. They shift. There is room for movement. That’s why happy marriages don’t make such good stories, the changes are slow.
But huge changes occur between mothers and daughters and fathers and sons.
I notice that my girlfriends are haunted by the relationships with their mothers. Their mothers’ approval and disapproval matters in some huge way. They feel the shift to taking care of their mother who has taken care of them keenly. They feel her loss of power acutely. Boys shrug off what the mother thinks when they grow, she becomes the mother and then the “little old lady,” or the “perverse matron,” or just “HER.”
I don’t think much about my mother because I don’t see her. She is in her early seventies. Not sure exactly.
As my daughter grew, we did not clash. We are so much alike and yet not alike. We like the same foods, the same drinks, we both are voracious devourers of life, but she experiences far more joy, has a big laugh about life, takes everything so more lightly, sunlight pours through her. The shadows are few. But I feel the ways we mirror and do not mirror as a sort of rhythm. I hope that as she gets older, we will continue to get along, that I will enjoy her becoming someone increasingly different and watch her energy emerge. I’ll figure out where she is on the Ennegram. I hope that I will not become critical and making wisecracks about her spouse. Mothers can drip pain over their daughters’ lives. Or joy. It’s a choice. But the choice is often for the mother, as she ages, to make it all about her. They visit you, they talk about their aches and pains, their health. I plan to choose wisely.
Fathers and sons are the stuff of myth. I see my son and his father, two men of more than six feet, of huge energy and power running at each other like two bulls in the ring, holding their own side, then giving in, giving up. My son learning perhaps, to handle another metaphor, to grab for his light saber, to use the force. And this is the practice that makes a man. This is the stuff we write stories about.
The man or woman becomes an adult through conflict and how we process that conflict. Or we avoid conflict and remain with arrested development forever. Stumped, unable to move on. To become the next person.
In stories, we want our characters to walk through a door and discover who they are on the other side. On the other side, we might emerge different. Dark thick ropy strangeness. Jungle on the other side. Who are you in the jungle? Who are you in the dark? Who are you in conflict? Who are you in strange?