It’s been a while since I blogged. For some reason I didn’t feel passionate about any topic. An exchange with a friend reminded me how much I care about the vagaries of parenthood. So here it goes…
There was the day when everything changed.
The beloved son was no longer welcome. The adored daughter was told she should consider herself not part of the family if she went ahead with her wedding plans.
I wonder (always) about the human capacity to turn on a close family member just because they break away from what’s acceptable to you and what defines you as a parent.
I can start with Chava, Tuvia’s (Tevye) daughter from Fiddler on Roof who falls in love with a non-Jew. In 2013 it seems like a non-issue, but in the story upon which the famed musical is based (Tevye the Dairyman), it’s one of the two heartbreaking events which makes the play/story so universally heartfelt. The story was written in the 19th century, but the father’s rejection of his child still rings true today.
When I was a young girl my parents had some friends who stopped talking to their daughter who went ahead and married a Moroccan Jew. The parents were German Jews, and despite the fact that both sets of parents immigrated to Israel from their native countries because of persecution, they did not see any contradiction in their attitude towards the “barbaric” man their “refined” daughter chose to marry. It took the birth of the first grandchild to thaw the hearts of the rejecting parents.
Michael (not his real name) was rejected by his parents when he came out to them. His father informed him that the only way he would be allowed to come back home would be to go through conversion-therapy for gays, which would hopefully make him “normal” again. Michael moved to LA and hasn’t seen his parents in 20 years. His mom talks to him on the phone and ends every conversation with: “I’ll pray for you.”
It takes all kinds.
And so I wonder, when does your belief system – be it your definition of normal, your religion, or your race – when do these trump love? When do you stop loving your son because he’s gay or your daughter because she marries a man of a different color or religion? When does your ego feel so rejected that the only way to manage your emotional injury is to reject your wayward child? And, why do you feel so dismissed when your core values or religion are not adhered to by your offspring? What happens to the heart of a parent when the child you loved only yesterday is not welcome in your home?
It is so difficult to fathom the possibility of raising a child for 18 years- nursing him, loving him, singing to him, sacrificing for him and feeling deep love; and then seeing it disappear because of one utterance.
The pain is mostly about departure. A departure from the parents’ beliefs, be it religious, be it cultural or political, but a departure it is.
“Will you reject your flesh and blood because she marries a black man?” I asked the grieving mother. “Yes” she answered, but her next sentence was the clincher. “It’s not that difficult anymore, I feel like my love is diminished each day. You see, I’m not prejudiced, but I absolutely believe this is a marriage cannot succeed because of the different background they both come from. And then again, what am I going to have in common with his people?” Again, I was reminded of my college roommate who married an Iraqi man and her parents threatened suicide before the wedding, and again I wonder about parents and their very conditional love.
On the other hand there was a story in the Portland Press Herald about a couple who intend to sell their house in Maine in order to live by their son who is imprisoned in Florida. The 31 year old son is serving 45 years in prison for a brutal murder. The murderer’s mother said that they love the visits to the prison: “they are so wonderful”.
I wonder of course: What would be the horrendous act that would make me stop communicating with my sons? Being a serial killer? Joining the Neo Nazi party? Torturing animals? I have no answer to the question, and I doubt whether anyone can be certain of their answer. But I am left perplexed by the parents of the killer who cannot wait to visit their son in prison and the parents of Michael who have not seen him in 20 years.
“So every year on March 30th” said Michael, “I get so many phone calls from my friends wishing me a happy birthday. At the beginning of our relationship, Patrick used to ask me how come I always look disappointed when I pick up the phone. Now, of course, he knows. I’m waiting to hear my dad’s voice saying Happy Birthday son”.
Michael’s father died last year.