Saturday, June 9, 2012

Adam hid himself because he was ashamed

In 1974 I was 17 going on 18, a new high school graduate.  I was in love with Rick, my first love.

He brought over an album to play on my father's new turntable--yes, vinyl.  The album was Robin Trowers' "Bridge of Sighs".

It skipped on the turntable.  Other albums skipped on the turntable, but not consistently.

"Bridge of Sighs" skipped consistently.  My father asked to borrow it so he could take the turntable back to the electronics store and demonstrate the defect.

My dad was still in the Air Force then.  He still had a crew cut.  Polyester leisure pants with flares at the bottom.  Diamond pattern.

Here's the story he told:

Arriving at the stereo store with the turntable and the album, the sales associate bypassed all question about product failure by claiming that the album wasn't my father's.  The associate said, "With that haircut, and those clothes, it can't be yours."  For whatever reason my father didn't pick the rational response which was, "Yes, this isn't mine, but that is secondary to the fact that this turntable skips."  Instead, he claimed that the album was his.  To his way of thinking, since the guy had no real way of knowing, then for all intents and purposes the album was his.

He didn't consider that most people who looked like him probably would not own that album.  He himself was the evidence that the album wasn't his.  It was as glaringly obvious as if he was a dog wearing a cat's mask and claiming he was a cat.

Telling the Truth was paramount in my family.  A lie was heavily punished.

Yet, there's a subtext that says if no one is able to prove otherwise, then a lie can be the truth.  That fine print was denied to children, only adults were eligible.

Where am I going with this?

Apologies have been an issue in my family.  The men in the family have had trouble with it.  There has been a sense that an apology is a knuckling under; an admission of inferiority, an acknowledgement of abject worthlessness and deserving humiliation.

I suppose they came from a dominator culture.  One was either a dominator or submissive.  There was shame in submitting, yet adults insisted on it from their children.

Years ago, just before I began to date Gary, my grandparents paid a visit to my parents, and they drove up from California to Oregon to see me.  I noticed that my grandfather's stance was anger.  He was mean to servers--I had to slip back to them as the family exited the restaurant and tell them not to feel bad and apologize for him.  (One was in tears) The Rolling Stones were coming to Seattle; an image of Keith Richards on the television and my grandfather remarking, "Don't you hate to think of being in Heaven with him?"  Later I learned from my cousin that he and my grandmother had been fighting to a point that they were unbearable to my aunt who told them to "go somewhere.  Anywhere.  Go away for a while."  The destination was here, with me.  On a road trip my grandmother and I were alone at a table.  The bitterness spilled out; I don't remember the trigger.  Something about the things my grandfather would do, the things he would say:  "And he will never apologize."  I remember another conversation, another time, when she was feeling more kindly disposed toward him:  "He told me, 'I know I should say it, but I just can't get it out.'"

Why?  Why should apologies be so hard?  Well, if they mean what I wrote above, then I can see why someone just "can't get it out."  Can't apologies mean, "I can't bear this rift between us, and I want so much to restore and heal our connection.  My heart is open, and I'm so sorry for what I did/said/whatever."?

Later I learned that my grandfather, and his twin, were forced as children, for the amusement of their father, to put on boxing gloves and fight. (They were number 6 and 7, in a family of 9 children).  (The twin went to World War II, but didn't fight...he had a kind of nervous breakdown)

There is a corollary to the apology-being-difficult-for-men-of-the-family fact.  It is a refusal to hold anyone accountable for their actions.  There is a fear to call wrong behavior wrong behavior and ask for an explanation (and, an apology, if called for).  There is a demand to validate a lie, to the point that a person calling it what it is is more of an offender than the person who lied.  There is a weird compulsion to protect an aggressor from the knowledge that s/he is an aggressor.  The expectation is to protect the feelings of the perpetrator of a wrong.

And it's all driven by fear.  Of what?  Disconnection, I think.  Or, perhaps, exposure. I've been pursuing this for a while.  I think there must be some shame in the family that has been papered over, and there is an imperative to maintain the fiction that all is well.  In fact, we're an idealized family; we're "close".  If we see anything that tells us different we are to deny it, and our worth as a person depends on our ability to do so...and to convince ourselves.  We are to lie, and to lie to ourselves about the fact that we are lying.  And then we are to hide from ourselves that we have lied to ourselves.

This has meant that children can't tell the Truth where it matters.

I'm hoping that the buck has stopped here.  I'm hoping that someday my sons will be able to tell me I succeeded in stopping the buck, here.