I am my parent’s child. And I mean that certainly in more than the biological way. I am the sum of who they are and aren’t, their strengths and their weaknesses, their sound decisions and mistakes, their issues and shortcomings, as much as their positive attributes and triumphs. Physically, I am equal parts of them both; my mother’s face with my father’s hair. My mother’s mouth, which was her mother’s before her, and their hands. I have my daddy’s penchant for developing freckles and his mother’s delicate nose.
Because of them, I am pretty. I don’t say this to be conceited, but rather to offer in all honesty that I have both suffered for it and used it as a means of manipulation.
Anyone who tells you they have never used their beauty to their advantage is a liar.
I am not gorgeous though. I am not classically beautiful, nor the type of lovely that makes people stop and take notice. How do I know this?
Well, a family member told me of course. Specifically, that despite my “fair skin, long hair, and white girl features” that I wasn’t really “all that pretty” so I better find something else going for myself.
So I did.
My daddy is pragmatic. He is simple in the easiest and loveliest of ways. He is not fancy or holding himself up to be better than. He is not fussy or emotionally ornate. He is just a man, far too generous and self sacrificing for his own good, not prone to grand, emotional demonstration, hard-working, and warm. But he is also so wholly dedicated to financial providing that he errs on the side of distant when treading emotional waters. He works excessively, and therefore provides, having taken up the mantle at a young age when his own father died. He does not have much by way of possessions, but certainly he has managed to provide as best he could with what little he was given. Unfortunately though, he has given a great deal of his life to his family without having lived much of it solely for himself.
In that way, we are the same.
My mother is the baby of the family, and she’s enjoyed being indulged as such for most of her life. If my daddy is all solid lines and black and white, it is my mom who dreams in color. It was she who dreamed of a life far grander, bigger, brighter than being the youngest of a whole clan, born poor to a single mother who cleaned the houses of rich, white southerners, who’s skin she may have favored, but who’s wealth she did not. She dared to dream of more than her circumstances, to desire more than what she was given, to reach for more than what she was told she should have, defined simply by being born who she was.
This ability to dream in bold, Technicolor pictures, she passed on to me.
But perhaps because of those dreams, and what must still have seemed like the sheer improbability of a reality inside of them, she is not prone to selflessness or sacrifice. Sure, she did (does) and said (says) the things that she should so and say in the way that self appointed martyrs do. But anything deeper than a precursory look will prove that image is not quite the case.
She chooses partners badly, tempestuously in that baby-of-the-family way. And she commits whole-heartedly, foolishly, to men who will not, cannot keep her. It is likely that she has spent the greater part of the last half century, searching for the man to fill the shoes of her absent father, discarding each long after the damage has been wrought when he proves himself to be exactly who he has been all along, and not the projected picture she painted to worship in her head. Having had to give up her own dreams at such a young age, she teeters precariously between feeling bitter at the loss and still trying to find some semblance of that happiness, no matter what the path between here and there looks like and who she has to drag along the way.
I equal precisely what the addition of them, and those that they came from, produces. Much of my life has been defined by their choices and their shortcomings, as people and parents. This is in no way an accusation or laying of blame, but rather an observation, made as objectively as their offspring can manage. In many ways, I feel trapped under the weight of their life; I am just as stoic as my father. Adding that to my aversion to the romance my mother favors without condition, and you have, well, a recipe for nothing nice.
For better or worse though, I believe they did the best they had the capacity to do for me. And despite their faults, and what their faults have meant for shaping my own identity, I am deeply appreciative of that. They have, just like so many other people, built the best them that they could with the supplies they were given. And even more importantly, they went out of their way to make sure that the supplies I was given to build me were even better than what they had. My own perceived shortcomings are my own to deal with. Whether I always believe it or not, I am all I need to be exactly who I want to be.
It might seem as though I have discussed who I am entirely through the lens of who my parents were or weren’t.
And that, friend, is exactly right.