Growing Up Donna Excerpt: Chapter 4: Quiet Family

This is really sad.

But I didn’t have much of a family life growing up.

My parents were married, they got along okay, and we were very financially stable. None of that was missing in my life. 

But it’s also what goes on inside a home, what people do when they’re actually together, that defines families and our relationships with each other.

And the way it was in my family, growing up, was that we never talked to each other. We weren’t mad at each other, most of the time. We didn’t dislike each other. We just simply didn’t go around relating to each other and building relationships with each other.

Perhaps my dad set the tone for this. My dad’s life was all about work. There were several reasons for this. He had the responsibility of providing for a family; he was the sole breadwinner in our family. He was also just born with a very strong work ethic. And, I think he really enjoyed working too. He enjoyed being ambitious and achieving great things in his career, just as a man should. 

So most of the time, my dad was not at home. He was always working. Even at a young age, I could sense that he was primarily working for unselfish and noble reasons, so I never held this against him. But still, there was a loss.

My dad rarely came home for dinner. He was always still at work. Sometimes, once in awhile when I was very little, my mom used to take me and my sister to my dad’s work and bring him dinner there. I didn’t like doing this at all. It was not fun to be at a workplace for something I sensed should be going on at home.

When my dad was at home, then he rarely talked to us. I never heard my dad or mom talking to each other much when I was younger. They didn’t really seem to have conversations with each other.

He never talked to me or my sister either. Additionally, with me, my dad was especially harsh. He treated me sternly and coldly. My dad always felt especially removed and distant from me, and I could sense that he didn’t treat my sister this same way for some reason. I never knew why, growing up. So I always had a certain wall up with my dad too; I felt like he just didn’t like me.

But the reason my dad treated me this way when I was younger wasn’t because he didn’t like me. Not at all. It was because he had always wanted a boy, and since he hadn’t gotten that, he ended up treating me like the son he never had. So he was never soft with me or treated me warmly. There was always this extra layer of distance and reserve that he had around me. In addition, my dad saw a lot of potential in me in terms of my intellect, so that was another reason he drove me extra hard and treated me even more like a boy, more concerned with my achievements than anything else about me. 

The result of all this from my dad, was that I felt unloved. And I believed and felt this, for a lot of years.

Later on, starting from my mid-twenties, I would see that this wasn’t the case at all. My dad began mellowing out with me, and I was also just able to understand him better then. I saw that my dad loved me a lot, and had for my whole life. He just hadn’t known how to convey it to me and relate to me as a child.

When I was in my thirties, I had a really short conversation with my dad in the car one night, as we were driving to dinner. The conversation was so quick, but we both still got our messages across to each other. I told my dad very succinctly, that he had treated me as a boy when I was younger, and I didn’t like that. My dad replied back to me that, he knew. That was it. But it was enough.  

* * *

My mom also contributed to the basically utter lack of communication in our family too. Most of the time, it was just me, my sister, and my mom together. The three of us. Whether we were together at home, or my mom was driving me and my sister to school or an extracurricular activity, or we were running errands together, it felt like we were always around each other.

But we never talked to each other. My mom set the tone for this, among the three of us. There were a couple reasons for this. The primary reason my mom never talked to us was because it just didn’t occur to her to, that she could relate to me and my sister as people to talk to. She didn’t understand that it was possible to enjoy interacting with kids. Also, another part of the reason was because she was feeling stressed and anxious most of the time, so she was mostly never in the mood to be talkative and jovial when she was around us.

So, it was just silent. And it didn’t feel eerie and uncomfortable, strangely enough. This was our normal and comfortable for us. In fact, it wasn’t normal to be this way. Three people together, never talking to each other, for no reason. But we had always seen it this way.

The only time my mom would talk to us, was to tell us to do something. Usually it was pretty short when she did this. A simple order. And that was it.

This lack of communication carried over to me and my sister’s relationship as well. For most of our early years together, we were always around each other, and sometimes played together too, but there wasn’t much conversation between the two of us. Maybe a little, but it wasn’t a very significant amount. We just learned from our parents that it was normal to not really talk around each other.  

* * *

My parents didn’t really have many friends either. There was the occasional visitor friend who might spend some time with one of my parents individually, for a day or something. Occasionally. But neither of my parents had their own individual friends that they hung out with on any regular basis.

My parent weren't necessarily weird or incapable of making friends. They had both had friends and social lives when they were younger. But during this time period, when me and my sister were two small kids to take care of, my parents just didn’t make having their own friends a priority, of any sort. They both had their own reasons for this, and it wasn’t anything too shocking or dramatic. It was simply their own preferences to not make having friends a priority in their lives.

Outside of their very big group of the “potluck friends,” which my parents only hung out with in large group settings, my parents didn’t seem to have many truly good friends as a couple, either. There were a few friends that they did get together with as a couple, in close settings, but almost all of these friendships naturally fizzled out over time.

So, I grew up in a household where there was almost no relationship-building at all, of any kind. Building relationships with people was absolutely a foreign concept to me. I didn’t witness it between my parents, really. Nor witness it from them, to me. Nor witness it in their own lives either.

And since the bulk of my time was almost always spent with my family, this kind of attitude towards relationships and people, was all I knew. An attitude of no relationships, basically. It made me very lonely inside, though at the time I didn’t know I was lonely. I just knew that something was off and that I felt very bad.

In school, I looked at my classmates like they were foreign objects. I simply didn’t know how to relate to them. I wanted to though, so badly. I had that desire in me, for human connection. But I just didn’t know how.

* * *

A lot of our childhood is defined by our free time, and how we spent it. That’s when we really have time to just be ourselves and be in the moment. Adults can be good at doing this, but children are even better at it. That’s why free time is kind of the essence of childhood. 

In my early childhood years, I did have a lot of free time, as children should. I either spent it with my family, or by myself.

Most of my free time spent with my family was on the weekends. This included all four of us: me, my mom, my dad, and my sister. We wouldn’t spend all weekend hanging out together or anything. But once in awhile, somewhat regularly, we would spend an afternoon together shopping for practical things at the mall or at a large store. We usually had something that we needed to buy, so we didn’t go shopping just for the sake of going out, but we still leisurely shopped and browsed in the stores nonetheless. 

What we did the most often together as a family, leisurely, was go out to eat on the weekends. Usually a weekend night. My dad enjoyed good food, so eating out was one of his favorite pastimes. We had a somewhat regular rotation of several restaurants that we would go to. They included steakhouses, other American restaurants, and most of all, Chinese restaurants. 

I didn’t particularly enjoy nor dislike any of these times out with my family. My family would all go out together to these places, and none of us were in bad moods or anything. But we never seemed to have fun or talk much when we went out. It just seemed like we had changed our environment, from being at home to somewhere outside, but the underlying feeling of not really relating to each other, was still there. 

So in some ways, these times out with my family, may have made me feel even lonelier than usual, because for me, they just highlighted the fact that something was amiss. 

I also just spent a lot of time by myself, in my early childhood years. I didn’t necessarily choose to be by myself most of the time, but it just seemed to work out that way naturally. There weren’t many people around, and if they were around, they didn’t interact with me too much.

I entertained myself with my toys. I read a lot books. I solved puzzles in my puzzles book. I wrote stories and drew. I didn’t mind doing these activities by myself, since most of them were solitary activities anyway. I enjoyed doing them all.

But still, with no one around me to really talk to, it all just felt so lonely.

No comments:

Post a Comment