Aha moments. Sometimes, they happen over and over. Our mind protects us from difficult matters – we may discover something crucial about our existence but then over time, push it to the far reaches. It tends to resurface, whether we want it to or not.
I have realized several times in my life, that I spend a lot of time trying to make things better for my dad. Let me explain. When I was young, he used to talk to me about his relationship with my mom. They were not happy and I came to realize as I became an adult, they were ill-prepared for marriage. Their culture, their upbringing, the times in which they lived – all combined to impede their efforts at finding common ground.
They were married in 1953. Men were kings in those days. Women were meant for childbearing, childrearing and housekeeping. My father had a 6th grade education. My mother graduated from high school at 16 and could easily have finished college but poverty intervened. They were both very intelligent. Both came from very humble beginnings and learned at an early age to make due, to do without.
When they met and married, they were happy or at least they seemed to be based on the way they told the story of their early years. Over the course of their life together, things slowly fell apart. They were angry and disappointed and didn’t try to stay on a joint path, but each went their own way. They lost interest in having a common goal. They gave up – over and over and over. The difference between mom and dad, and the way they handled the demise of their relationship – was that he would talk about it, at length. She would shut down in extreme anger and frustration – cry, yell and ignore everyone. We always suspected that she was angry at my dad, but we never really knew. We learned to observe and detect – stay in the background and don’t ruffle the feathers.
I remember, very specifically, my dad telling me that when I married, I should never treat my husband the way my mom treated him. I received the message, loud and clear, all it takes to make a man happy is to listen to him, to never ignore him, to anticipate his needs, never to greet him with an angry scowl… A recipe for disaster in my first several relationships.
Aha moment. When I married my first husband, I truly believed I was doing the right thing as a woman and wife. I saw many things in the relationship that I did not abide by – however, I was going to be a better wife than my mother was. I was going to make it up to my poor dad by being the perfect wife. Any time I felt opposition to something my husband proposed – I would think of my dad and feel obligated to try to make it up to him by being complaisant. I would not make waves, I would suck it up. That lasted about 2 1/2 years. In the end, it was the realization that my mother was not the criminal that my father led me to believe. She was angry with good reason. I did not want to end up like my mother or for my children to feel the same anxiety and apprehension I felt. I believed in my own value, I had (and wanted to have) a mind of my own. I ended the relationship despite the fear, the trepidation, the upheaval a divorce would bring to me and my children.
Aha moment rerun. Every now and then, I will feel myself being complaisant with my current husband. I can think of a number of times in our 30 years together that I didn’t agree but acquiesced. When that occurred, I was always disappointed in myself and a little ashamed. I don’t ever want to feel discounted. Every time I go along when I really don’t agree, I discount myself.
In truth, on a base level, he is always surprised with I present an opposing view. In years past, I would have sat quietly and gone along with the conversation or changed the subject. I feel more compelled to speak my mind these days and it feels good, to me at least.
Unfortunately, as women, we tend to be relegated to the role of secondary whether we want to be or not – even in this day and age. Men still have higher wages and achieve better success in the corporate world. Most women, not all, have to rely on their counterparts for financial security – especially when children are born into the situation. Frankly, we put up with a lot of shit for a long time, because we have little choice.
Most of the time, for me, it is the little things: like going to an action movie because I know my husband won’t like a chick flick; going to a restaurant that I know he likes because it is easier than listening to him complain about the restaurants that I like; buying furniture that he likes because he believes he knows better. Those are compromises that don’t really amount to much sacrifice on my part until I think of 30 years worth. Then I begin to feel like my mother must have felt – resentful. As I age, I begin to assert myself more – while those compromises are minor, they are minor – compromise is a two way street right?
As women, we don’t always have to make the compromise, not because he makes more money, or because he is stronger or because he is louder. We can say, “I don’t think so”, “I don’t agree”, “Not in this lifetime”. I have to turn off my dad’s voice, I can’t make things better for him and his view of how a wife and woman should be are not my own. There are voices and memories that rule our choices – we have to understand that. Sometimes, we have to quiet those voices so we can hear our own.