It’s hard to accurately reckon the effect someone has on you and your life. Outside of the obvious – he helped get me a job, she introduced me to the love of my life, they did this or that or whatever. That fact is that we don’t always know how deeply we are affected by the people who dance in and out of our lives.
We can’t know how people change us, or how we change them, we can only see it reflected briefly in moments that remind us of the people who have touched our lives.
Looking back, I can’t tell you in what ways my parents have molded who I am. It’s like trying to look at a stone to see how the waves have smoothed it out and taken away its rough edges. I know I put them, my mom in particular, through heck. I know I wasn’t always the kid that they may have wished I was. I know I was a handful, in ways most kids aren’t – I wasn’t a partier, I wasn’t a troublemaker, but I was a kid with a lot of emotional stuff going on.
In school I bottomed out and was thrown a life-preserver and was able to push on and get out of high school.
I know that isn’t the path my parents would have wanted for me.
I do know they did their best though and, as a parent now myself, I know how hard it is to do that.
How hard it is to align what a kid needs and what they want.
How impossible it is to walk that line and not fall off it.
I can see the obvious stuff I got from my parents.
My mom’s love of horror and her artistic side.
From dad I got an analytical and cynical side.
From them both I got a love of the holidays, though I am not sure either really loved them.
They came from hard childhoods, dad’s much harder, and I think they wanted to do everything they could to spoil my sister and me as if to make up for the childhood they didn’t get.
Mom loved Halloween, even being the lunch lady at the elementary that decorated the lunch room for the kids every year.
Dad liked it too, getting a laugh out of how mom dressed like a witch some years for the trick or treaters and he was always there to get the decorations out, though he moaned and groaned about it as he did – simply part of the routine.
Christmas was a big deal for us.
We were spoiled as kids and it was always a big affair, even until dad’s death.
My sister and I took up after them and we all spoiled one another the best we could.
Mom and dad would put up two trees, one being for dad’s University of Michigan ornaments. She’d put out her Santas and, earlier on, she’d get her Christmas village – a sprawling porcelain Victorian village based on Dickensian stories – and slowly build her city.
I got tradition from them.
I got my giving spirit from them.
I got my love of giving back from them.
Dad was big on giving back, being a member of various boards and organizations, even long into his retirement. Sure, he gave money, but more than that he gave time. He helped organizations he believed in and gave his time.
I got that from dad but in a modified way.
My love of the arts got me into the arts scene here in Flint and I poured time and effort into that, trying to make the city better via the arts. With the horror events I did with friends we were trying to bring more people to the area, trying to bring some fun to the area, and trying to support the arts and culture of the area.
I learned my love of U of M football from dad, who took me to gaves for about fourteen years.
I learned my love of books and movies from mom, who devoured both as often as she could.
I learned manners from mom and dad, though I’ll be dogged if I can recall WHEN I learned it.
I learned more than I can put my finger on from them, their fingerprints on me worn away now and only the changes to me remaining. I am sure there is good, and I am sure there are some less good things.
We can’t help but pass on the least of us as we pass on the best, something I dread with my daughter but do understand.
All we can hope as parents is that our kids will remember the best of us and understand the worst, or at least accept it.
I am trying, with both of them gone, but can say that I am lucky to have had them both there to help guide me. I am lucky to have had them both there to love and nurture me.
Not everyone gets that, and I know that.
Mom and dad didn’t have to bury us, despite my best efforts at the opposite, and I know they were glad for that.
We were never a close family emotionally, but we shared family nights when my sister and I were younger, and we shared the major holidays every year outside of the few my sister lived in another state.
We were not a perfect family, but we did our best.
My parents were not perfect but they did their best.
They overcame their own parents and the issues in their lives to do the best they could by us, which was pretty amazing in retrospect. No one has perfect lives. No one really has an easy life. All we can do is the best we can and then push to be even a little better than that if we’re able.
Overcoming ourselves is the hardest thing most of us will have to overcome but that journey is worth it.
We see our families in our eyes, in our smiles, in the way our hair lays, and in the ways we see the world. Where we see them most though is in how we treat other people, and in the case of my folks, they did pretty good with that.
They did pretty good with all of it.