Ever since I was a teenager, I think it's fair to say that I haven't always seen eye-to-eye with my dad. This is hardly a unique phenomenon, I'm sure, but to this day, we barely have to be around each other under the same roof for longer than a day before we start rubbing each other up the wrong way. I'm not sure why this is. Superficially, we're quite similar. For starters, at first glance, we look physically very similar, and are unmistakably father and son. Look a little more closely though, and the differences become more apparent: as well as being bald where my dad has a full head of hair, I'm a lot taller and actually have quite a different physical build to my dad. It wasn't until my mum lost a load of weight recently that I realised quite how much I actually resemble her in terms of our physical stature - tall, thin, broad-shouldered.
I think something similar is true of our personalities: on the face of it we're both untidy, impatient and irascible, with a tendency not to listen and to interrupt, but when you look at things a bit closer, the differences become a lot starker. At least I hope they do.... My dad is a doctor and a man of the sciences; I am very much inclined towards the humanities. My dad is religious and I most certainly am not.... and so on. I love him to bits, of course, but I just don't think he understands me because, although we're superficially similar on the face of it, I am ultimately put together in a quite different way to him. Somehow, after all this time, he still gets angry when I react to things differently to him (and, I suppose, vice-versa). It's as if he keeps expecting me to be more like him than I actually am.
I was given a stark illustration of this when we last saw my parents: my dad was talking to C. and was describing how I used to drive him mad when I was a teenager by deliberately doing a bad job of mowing the lawn, leaving tufts of uncut grass all over the place. This, he said, was absolutely typical of me. This is not the way I remember things. It's absolutely true to say that I used to drag my heels over being told to cut the grass. What teenager doesn't? It wasn't so much that I disliked the job itself or had anything better to do with my time, it was more to do with the fact that I was being told -- ordered -- to do something, and I objected on principle and took my time getting it done. There was never any question that I wouldn't do it; it was always only a matter of how far I could push it before I actually went and did it. If you've been a teenager, then you've probably been there yourself and I'm sure you know how it works. However, once I was out and cutting the grass, never once did I deliberately set out to do a bad job, to piss my father off or otherwise. I may have DONE a bad job, but I never set out to do so intentionally. The idea that my dad has spent the last twenty years or so stewing on that as being somehow typical of me is something that I find a little disturbing. It is entirely possible, I now think, that my dad has based his assessment of my personality on a presumption of a premeditation, of a malice of forethought, that has simply never been there.
Based on a conversation I had with C. over the weekend, what really worries me now is that she has taken my father's misreading of me on-board and is applying it to me herself. I've no one to blame for this misreading of my intentions but myself, but I still find it alarming that my actions (or inactions) are interpreted in this way. I'm surely not that inscrutable, am I?
3 days ago