Before falling asleep last night this intense feeling of aging overcame me. I started to think about parents, growing up and where I am at now in life. Thinking back on conversations, arguments or disagreements about such trivial things.
I didn’t have the luxury of growing up with a lot of money. My father was involved in an accident when I was pretty young that rendered him “disabled”. At that time, we had a nice house, nice car, went to a private school. After that accident though, life changed, drastically. I was 8 years old when we were forced to move about an hour away from the city to a small rural town in Central Florida. Although my Dad was “disabled” he worked under the table for years. My Mother also worked, but I honestly think that they barely made 1000$ a week between the 2 of them. Paying for rent (because we didn’t own a home), a vehicle, food, utilities-they could barely make ends meet.
I never tried to make my parents feel bad, like my sisters did, that we were…poor. There were days we had no hot water because my parents couldn’t afford to pay the water bill-we’d boil the cold water on the stove and poor pots-full of water into the tub where we’d all bathe using the same water. We had a washer that didn’t spin and no dryer, so I would help my Mom wring the water out of the clothes to hang them to dry. Sometimes all we had was rice and beans. No cereal, no pop tarts, none of those fancy snacks that are so easy to afford these days. We’d get so upset at my Dad when he’d buy off brand items, not ever realizing the sacrifices he had to make to keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs.
Our household was full of turmoil. My parents fought ferociously most times, my mom had some serious issues when it came to that. Throwing household items, breaking our things, physically fighting with my Dad or my sisters. Me always trying to stop it. My Dad would leave, come back and the cycle would start again. Never a dull moment.
Last night I thought about all of that. I always felt poor, but it never made me feel like any less of a person. I never yelled at my parents the hateful things my siblings did, or made them feel bad for not being able to buy me some material crap. I thought about the things my parents tried to do and how my sisters were never satisfied and just plain mean. I was never like that. I remember my 10th birthday. Somehow I had gotten about $90 from family members and I remember telling my Dad I wanted to give it to him. This memory so vividly stands out in my mind. He looked so…dejected, and told me to keep it that it was my birthday money and I said, no and told him to use it for groceries or something. It makes me tear up now, that he was so disappointed, as a man and a father, that he didn’t want to take it and he knew we needed it. In attempt I think to minimize his guilt he said he would take it only if I chose something I wanted to buy with it, I chose a pizza, for all of us.
Now, I put my family through my fair share of things during high-school that cost them too much money and even a bankruptcy, because some people are terrible and will do anything for money. I made some bad choices as a teenager that I never expected would impact them so terribly, but they did, and still yet they never made me feel bad about it. They took care of it knowing full well they barely could. I make it a point even today, to never take for granted the sacrifices that I know my parents made for me and for us, even if my sisters feel differently about it today. They put us before themselves, so much so, they had dental issues, health issues, shitty cars that got repossessed all the time, they resorted to begging my uncle to give them time to pay the measly 600$ rent for a tiny ranch style house with one bathroom. I mean he sold the first house we were in right from under my parents. My father put so much work into updating the 2nd house inside and out. I went through so much pain from decaying teeth because we had no insurance and I never said anything to them. My mom took me to a discount dentist who drilled my molars open and filled them with “temporary fillings”, those fillings fell out and left exposed nerves in my mouth for a decade. I hid the pain I was in. I still don’t think they know and I would never tell them even now, it wasn’t their intention and I think it would devastate them to know. Thankfully the military fixed all that for me. I don’t remember asking often for anything. I remember my Dad feeling bad once for buying me boys sneakers cause they were cheaper and I genuinely liked them. I was so excited. Meanwhile my sister gets an 80$ pair of Nike’s and complains they weren’t even the ones she wanted. Kids are terrible to their parents. My sisters, and I love them, were terrible. These are just a small few of the examples and I still appreciate everything they did for me. They tried.
There comes a point in your life when you have to realize that there is so much more that’s more important than you. For whatever reason, I knew this at a very young age. And although my Dad and I butted heads up until about 3 years ago, I never let his sacrifices go un-noticed or un-thanked. My father didn’t graduate high-school. He didn’t have any sort of an education, but he taught me how to be a hard-worker and a good person. People took advantage of him ALL the time, his family talked down to him, treated us like charity cases, and even with all that he still gave whatever anyone needed. He worked hard labor jobs only until a few years ago, worked for barely any money, but never complained. He did what he had to do and I know that his example is what made me the person I am. My mom had a horrible childhood and until family drama that pushed her into a nervous breakdown that changed her mentally forever, she worked her ass off while pregnant with me, tried to finish college, worked part time at the mall (I used to go in with her and sitting in a lawn chair all day) and did her best to be a good mom.
My parents, for as messed up as they were from their family turmoil, tried their best to be GOOD parents. They didn’t always make the right choices financially, they didn’t always handle situations the right way, they didn’t always parent the best, but they worked so hard to make us, at the very least, comfortable. I wasn’t a perfect kid and I had my moments, but I think back about the times I may not have been the most gracious kid and I wish I had done better. My goal now as an adult is to do ANYTHING I can to help them. With money, time, anything. What is important is accepting who they are now. Accepting that they, just like everyone else in the world, may still be a little bit broken from what shaped them. Mental health care wasn’t a thing when I was growing up, taking time to yourself, meditating, being mindful-as old as those practices are, they are new to society now and our generation of parents didn’t have the opportunity to ever just focus on themselves like parents do today. They didn’t have the time to decompress from that dynamic.
Growth is hugely important as an adult. It’s important to reflect on life, on family and on your own personal choices. If when you reflect on your own personal growth and that of the people you love and it doesn’t move you tears, I think you’re missing out on one of the true beauties we get to experience in life. Acceptance can make a rough relationship better and I learned this myself when I made it a point to accept that my parents, apart, are both individuals. They are people with deep emotion, personal struggle and pain; that they too want to be loved and accepted, as we are. They lived a large part of their lives being focused on raising 3 other people to be good, successful adults. To teach them, feed them, mold them. Their worries were not only their own, but ours too. Its easy to hold a grudge or to hold onto things that happened growing up that could’ve been prevented, but I firmly believe that all those things happened for a reason. And they weren’t all bad. Even if there were terrible things, they happened and no amount of hate, discontent or withholding of love will ever change that. We can only move forward.
Acceptance, love and understanding. Parents deserve those things. And hey, maybe some don’t, but my parents deserve them. At the end of the day we need to accept them, love them unconditionally and understand their struggles. They spent their lives doing that for us and we should reciprocate. No one is perfect, but everyone has the ability to change. And if they don’t, change yourself. Grow your heart more and share it with someone else who may need it. Grow your heart with the people who still think about you and worry about you and want you to be the best person you can be in a world that is so filled with ugliness. Teach your children how to live with good hearts. I am thankful mine did.