This post has been a long time in the making. Frank Turner played his song “Fatherless” for the first time on a live stream last summer. My first thought back then was “Holy Shit, I can’t believe he’s not holding anything back and that he’s fine with burning all the bridges”. Of course by now we’ve learned that in the last few years he was rather building bridges and that he is in fact on friendly terms with his parent after all this time. My second thought went much deeper and triggered so much that even a year later I’m not sure I’ll be able to articulate it as well as Frank does. It wasn’t so much a thought, but rather the almost visceral relief to hear someone – Frank – voice these thoughts and emotions I hadn’t even admitted to myself for most of my life. Let alone speak them to anyone else.
The thing is: On a rational level I know my mum and my dad loved me and cared for me. And I’m sure they did the best they could. Our parents / my mum (after my dad had passed away too early) supported my brothers and me in all our various endeavours. On a practical level and I think in any other way as best as she saw herself capable to. And I know that alone made me privileged compared to others. Moaning to myself about how little my mum actually understood me and how little she seemed to care (or was unable to express that she cared) made me feel ungrateful and thus guilty when I knew others had an even worse or no relationship at all with their parents.
After I made the more or less conscious decision in my mid- to late Twenties to accept that I didn’t have a “perfect Hallmark Mum” I also often thought – or rather assumed I should think: “I’m an adult now. It’s all been a long time ago, suck it up, woman”. And that seemed to have worked for a while. Though…. I probably was just burying it all deep down in my subconscious? I mean, two decades later in my Fourties I did reach the point where I finally started seeking professional help for some of my issues.
Anyway last year Frank played this song and in his typical eloquent and beautiful way actually spoke what I considered unspeakable till then. And with singing these words not just allowed me to admit to myself that part of me still hurt from those experiences however long ago. And also showed me that there are others who feel the same way. That even as adult it’s okay to (sometimes) feel like this. And that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, because you don’t pick the family you’re born into.
I was never taught how to deal with this,
But I soldier onwards nonetheless.
And it makes me feel like I’m an alien.
I don’t remember when I realized that my relationship to my mum was not as it was supposed to be. I honestly don’t know where I got the idea of how good / close it was supposed to be in the first place. TV? Media? Friends maybe, but we didn’t really talk about that or at least I didn’t address it with anyone. Looking back I can barely remember a few (girl)friends who clearly had a close relationship with their mums.
Be that as it may: I don’t remember ever going to my mum with a problem or asking for her advise about problems with friends or school or anything. Growing up I often did feel like I was soldiering on(wards) on my own. I think I always had the idea that my mum wouldn’t be able to understand or help with any of my problems. I know I later often thought that I shouldn’t add my worries to my mum’s worries. And I did feel so alienated by it, because I also still thought the “normal” relationship to a parent is one of trust and of telling them things; to be cared for and to be helped and supported. I should probably add that I’ve always been a bit of a Daddy’s girl. Clearly spoilt by him when it comes to attention and special treatments. Though I don’t recall going to him with my problems either. But I sometimes wonder now if my close ties to my dad might have contributed to the fact that my relationship to my mum wasn’t as close as it could have been. That didn’t change or got better after my dad unexpectedly passed away when I was 14. Rather the contrary, I’m afraid. The way we as a family unit did not properly deal with that loss might be a topic for another blog post some day.
Oh lord what I wouldn’t give
For a caregiver who had care to give.
Repeating a thing I said above: On a rational level I know my mum cared for me. But last week my therapist asked me about moments I remember when I actually experienced feeling loved / cared for by my mum. And I blanked. I still do! I’ve been thinking about this on and off since then, trying to recall a significant moment or just any tiny ones. And I don’t remember any. And that makes me so sad and already made me cry a bit a few times, because it’s not supposed to feel that way. Is it? To be fair, I don’t recall much affection from my dad either, but at least he always gave me the feeling I was special and like I said he clearly spoiled me a bit. But memories of my mum in that regard are a blank canvas. I’m trying to figure out why that is and as I tend to do, also started wondering how much of this “not remembering” is my fault or if it is in fact all my fault. Because *I* don’t remember it. And what kind of daughter doesn’t remember moments where her mum showed her love and care?
I’m alone and I don’t know
How or if to be a man.
Someone to take me fishing.
You can’t blame a grown up kid for wishing.
Someone to teach me how to shave,
To tut over the mistakes I’ve made,
And to offer me some fatherly advice.
Some kind of acknowledgement would be nice.
So much to unpack in these few lines, I hardly know where to begin, because it all blends into each other. I’m sure my mum tutted over the small mistakes I made as a child. I don’t think she noticed much of the mistakes I made as a (young) adult. I at least didn’t really tell her about them, because I didn’t expect her to have a solution for any of them.
How or if to be a woman? My mum had a clear idea of a girl’s / woman’s role in society, which to her belief was to be the caregiver for the people around her. She was raised and taught that way and it was the only way she knew how to be a woman. I’m sure she expected me to follow her role model just as she was expected to follow her mother’s when she was girl. But as long as I remember I had no intention whatsoever to do that. Like I said, I was a daddy’s girl. And I didn’t understand why I was supposed to help my mum with setting the table and doing the dishes and doing the laundry when neither of my brothers was ever asked to. We had so many fights about that when I was a teenage girl / young adult. It wasn’t pretty! To be fair, there were other tasks in the garden or such my brothers helped out with and I maybe wouldn’t have liked to do those either. But I was never even asked to.
So, my mum had a clear idea – the only one she knew – of how to be woman. I didn’t want to be that kind of woman. I had no other role model to tell me how to be the woman I wanted to be or to tell me what kind of other woman I could be. So I didn’t ask for her advice all that much, because I knew – or thought to know – that it wouldn’t be helpful to me.
I also don’t remember my mum ever taking just me on my own somewhere for fun. I don’t remember any mum-daughter bonding activity. Once again, it might have never occurred to her, because she never experienced that for herself when she was a girl. I’m guessing here of course, but it would make sense. I do believe that she did the best she could with what she knew or had been taught herself. It just wasn’t what I might have needed or wanted, I guess? On the other hand I do remember quite a few dad-daughter bonding activities and I do remember how much I enjoyed those. Like I said, a daddy’s girl. Once again I’m tempted to find the fault with me in the way that I preferred my dad and maybe rejected my mum and hurt her in the process. And that it’s my own fault that she didn’t show me more care and affection. But as my therapist said – in a different context, but still valid here: It doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t do. In her role as my mother she was supposed to make sure I felt loved and cared for no matter what. And to be honest… I obviously didn’t feel that way. I’m glad that on a rational level I know that she did love and care for me, because otherwise I don’t know how I’d feel right now.
But yeah, this grownup kid was still wishing for a very long time. This grownup kid also was very hurt when her mum forgot her birthday one year. Literally forgot about it. I obviously blocked this from my memory for decades and I have no idea why I just recently remembered it. I was going to uni by that time, still living at home, so I must have been in my early to mid Twenties. I do remember that I was a bit confused, when I realized that my mum hadn’t bought the ingredients she needed to make my birthday cake. I didn’t mention it to her, because how weird would that be? “Hey mum, you do remember it’s my birthday in two days?” I couldn’t imagine that she’d forgotten and I thought it would be to embarrassing to ask about it. But… she had not remembered it. To be fair she did feel bad, when she realized it and apologized profusely, but it didn’t change the fact that she had forgotten my birthday. I don’t think, she ever forgot any of my brothers’ birthdays. I know it might be a bit petty to go on about that after all this time, but it did hurt back then. It obviously still does a bit.
And finally… “some kind of acknowledgement would be nice”. When I’m listening to it in my car or at a gig, this one is the the line I usually scream along to even louder than to the rest of the song, Because I did not feel acknowledged by my mum in the way I would have needed it. Maybe because I clearly wasn’t the daughter she had expected to raise and maybe she had no idea how to deal with the daughter she got? But in so many ways I always had the impression, that my mum just didn’t understand me. That she didn’t know the real me and that she wasn’t really interested in who I was and what I was interested it: politics, travel, various kind of fandoms over the years. She listened to my tales of happy and joyful experiences from all of it, but she didn’t really share these emotions with me. Does that make sense? It was always more of a “that’s nice” pat on the head instead of a “OMG, that’s so cool, I’m happy for you, tell me all about it” reaction. She never asked about why we as the local Greens put forward this or that initiative in council. She never inquired in detail about why I picked this particular place to visit and how I felt about being there. Especially in regards to all my fandom activities she so often made me feel like a stupid little girl living in a dream world. An embarrassing groupie kind of woman. I dwell on the fandom part for a bit, because it’s such a clearly defined singular aspect of my life, where my action and my mum’s reaction aren’t as muddled with other aspects of our lives together. She never understood why I did all the fangirl things I did and what it meant to me and she never even tried to understand. She just rolled her eyes and changed the subject.
Growing up she so often made me feel like I knew less than my brothers. I don’t think she really meant to and that a lot of it stems back to how she herself was taught that women matter less than men. But it still hurt to have my opinion brushed aside and have the same question put to a son instead, who of course gave the same answer I had done just a moment before. But when a male person says it, it must be right. I never felt acknowledged as a person with the same worth and value as my brothers and it took me till my mid-twenties to figure out why that might be: Her own lack of self-worth as a woman. And even a bit longer to find a way to deal with it the best I could: to just accept that my mum was that way and that I can’t change her. Looking back now I’m glad that I stopped “carrying the hate and that I managed to let the resentments fade away and saw her for who she was” (yes loosely quoting “Miranda” lyrics here). I’m glad that I made my peace with who / how she was and thus made it possible for us to co-exist without fighting / bickering with each other all the time. Which also made it possible for me to be there for her with compassion in her final days. And I’m grateful for that.
All the rest of it will probably come up in therapy a bit more over the next few weeks. I’m equally dreading and looking forward to it. Dreading, because it might turn me into an even bigger emotional mess than I already am. Looking forward because I hope I will learn how to or get some tools to accept and finally move on from it. And I so clearly need to move on from it.