Every once in a while, in a quiet moment with myself, while clipping my nails or fixing the broken flush knob or—god forbid—reading, I tend to have a sudden realisation come over me. I am, at once, able to see that I share an idiosyncrasy with my mother or father. I then proceed to feel annoyed by this new awareness, because it is usually something unpleasant.
Sure, there are nice qualities I share with my parents, but ‘nice’ is insufferably boring. I’m afraid this is the wrong place for positive stories. Here we stick to the ‘terrible’.
I then go as far back as I can in my memory and recollect when I employed this unpleasant behaviour for the first time. Often, I reach my teens but in the process, I am overcome with feelings of revulsion. I wince and painfully recollect incident after incident, when I went into overdrive with the said behaviour. Finally I end up feeling upset or some other variant of ‘anger’.
Anger not necessarily towards my parents—I believe I am too old for that shit now, although the temptation to blame my parents for every fault in me is stronger than ever before—but anger towards the fact that I cannot unsee this awful trait in myself now. And, worse, I might have to get rid of it or change it—painstakingly, over who knows how many years.
And ‘change’, as we know, is irritating and unwelcome.
Take, for example, my old habit of rambling off topic while narrating an incident or talking about something. I would launch into a story, get into its tributary and keep going till I completely lost my way and the listener’s attention. It wasn't until I watched people fall asleep with their eyes open that I realised—I need to get to the freakin’ point, this person is on the brink of becoming comatose due to my story.
Although I can’t claim to have completely gotten rid of this habit, I have largely corrected it over the years. Today, I am slightly more perceptive than before.
I got this habit from my mother. She is (trigger)happy to launch into an endless chain of interlinking stories that teleport the listener to a parallel universe. Where the listener is briefly forced to alight space-time continuum, whether they like it or not. My mother does this naturally; as her brother once noted about her accurately—“she is the only person who can interrupt herself”.
As a teenager, I used to get embarrassed by my mother’s long-winded way of talking. I would interrupt her or cut her short, when she spoke in front of my peers. These interruptions—although always playful—started off as a way to avoid embarrassment for myself, later turned into a thing I did because I felt protective of her; I had started to notice her listeners become visibly tired or roll their eyes or make eyes with others, as my mother kept going till the cows came home (and left again).
It was not until recently that I let go. I finally showed the magnanimity of letting my mother be her own person and decide things for herself. Now, I mostly excuse myself and don’t witness the situation. In any case, my mum never gave a toss about what I or anyone thought about her talking.
Another trait in me that I have slowly chipped away at, is my stubborn perfectionism.
I get it from my father; ‘if you do something, do it well or else don’t do it’. A long time proponent of this terrible adage myself, I have now come to completely discard it from my life. This motto was very common amongst many in my father’s generation. I think it still is with a lot of people. And I get it why, it has a lovely ring to it. If you say this at a dinner table, you might almost get a standing ovation. And I am yet to meet somebody who would readily disagree with it.
But ask someone (me) who has actually tried to practise this ‘do it well otherwise don’t do it’ crap. And you know how long it takes to do any damn thing; it can take anywhere from over a day—to write a silly one sentence reply—to over a decade—to write my own music. Because you want to do it perfectly, nothing less.
Two quotes by Sheryl Sandberg come to the mind here: ‘done is better than perfect’ and ‘prioritize ruthlessly’ (nope, I haven’t read ‘Lean in’.) I think ‘prioritize ruthlessly’ needs to replace ‘do something, do it well, don’t do it ever you piece of shit’. Because it is far more important to focus on doing what you want to do, rather than doing every other mundane task perfectly well.
I will stop at the above two examples, but there are so many traits that I find common in me and my parents regularly. And it all ‘clicks’—ah, that’s exactly what I do which is annoying to me about mum/dad. And precisely why it is more bothersome; you both have the trait and you don’t want it in either of you.
Lastly, once you learn this, you cannot stop at yourself. This observation spills over to others. You see people and their parents, who you’ve known, and you can’t help but make connections. When person x launches into a long self-righteous rant, having heard their father you know exactly where they get it from. When I hear this woman judge every single person she makes a mention of, I know why her son turned out like that.
In a sense, this seems to be a part of becoming older. My idealistic younger self would never let someone make a connection between somebody’s negative behaviour and their parent’s; you know, comments like “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, “have you seen her mom?!”, “like father like son” would never fly with me. I viewed passing such remarks as inherently wrong, if not terribly old-fashioned. But I think I am going to stop acting like it is the most unbelievable co-incidence that a son and his mother are both extremely ungenerous in the same way. I may not pass comments, but I might silently nod in agreement.
It’s not my place to ‘correct’ my parents; who the hey am I? It is, however, in my own interest to rid myself of any bad behaviour that I notice in me, that I might have inherited. So that I may be left with my own godawful traits, which I can then gladly pass on to my own children.