|Left - Mum, Dad and me. Right - the general public, anti Lockdown and Lockdown.|
Part one. The family divide.
Years ago, I hated my father. I thought I had to.
My mother and he had parted, and I was bound to my mother and her anger and grief in such a way that there was no room for compromise. My father was wrong and nothing could redeem him. For many years, from my teens up until I was a young mother in my thirties, I scorned my father and tried to appease my mother. It was hard work. My mother could not be appeased, not for long, and her fury and pain would wash over us all threatening to drown us without mercy.
I listened to my mother. She was powerful, beautiful, wronged. How dare he? she would cry. Her grief drove her mad, even before he left. Her grief and something raw and frightening would overwhelm her, making her separate, and wild, and lost. But when my father eventually did go, worn down by her rages and pain, all directed at him and laid at his feet as his fault, I stayed in the madness of my mother's version of events. We all did. My three brothers and I, and we were at the mercy of her love and her violent scorn. We listened to her, understood her, and were afraid to provoke her. But the triggers were impossible to detect, and time and time again, the fury overtook her and her need to destroy made us frightened, confused and vulnerable.
And so, I hated my father. For years, I saw what he had done to her. For years, I would not see him nor speak to him. It was safer not to. If my mother knew I had seem him, she would not let it rest and it would end in another storm of pain and anger. The sadness of it was that I had always been so close to my father. It must have been so dreadful for him too, but I listened to my mother and he, my father, had to go.
I remember how this all came to a head. In my early thirties, with a young child, he came to see us. I would not look at him, and left him sitting alone on the sofa while I took a bath. My husband looked after the baby, and I knew my father was sitting alone having come all this way to see me. I did not care. I knew it was rude, but he was the cause of my mother's madness, so she said, and even if I did want to see him, she would find out and I could not stand the rage she would unleash. And so, after a while, he called through the bathroom door that if I did not want to see him, he would go. I did not bother to reply and he left. I knew it was wrong, I knew I was beyond rude, and I knew I had finally hurt him as much as I possibly could. I didn't like it, but it was this, or my mother's rage. And I think, underneath it all, I was frightened. My father had behaved badly too, he had not been the best person for my mother in her distress. She did have a point, but so did he. These were my own parents and I did not know how to deal with it. I took the path of least resistance in order to survive. I did what I thought I had to do.
It was not long after this that I began to see a counselor. During one of the sessions I had an epiphany. I was allowed to love my father.
I was allowed to love him, and the realisation hit me like a bombshell. Of course I could. He was my father, had always loved me, and had done nothing so very wrong. He was a victim of my mother's depressions as much as we, his children, were. And as much as she, poor dear mother, was too. Oh my goodness. I did not have to do this rejection any more. Everything changed that day. I did not apologise to him, in fact we never mentioned this period of our lives ever, but the relief of it being possible to love him as I absolutely did, was wonderful. He, gentle, and kind and clever, just welcomed me back. The freedom to be with him, to enjoy his wit, his company, his eccentricities, made me see how afraid I had been to think for myself. I really loved my father.
But I did not let go of my mother. I really loved her too. She did not change, she remained as she was. The difference was that I could see how her need to weave the story of my father's badness was not true for me. It was true for her, but it was not rational, nor was it possible once we started to unpick it. The evidence simply wasn't there. Once when I met one of my mother's friends while visiting her, I was astonished at the friend's confusion when I said I had seen my father. "You still see him?" she asked, "but how come?". I remember wondering what story she had been told, and being shocked at their disapproval of my father, whom they did not know, and at how insanely wrong all this was.
Part two. Understanding the Lockdown divide
Here is what I think about the Lockdown and the virus. I worry about it, and I do not understand it, and I wish it were easier for me to make sense of all the difficulties with how we are all behaving and thinking.
There is a divide amongst us, and those that follow the rules believe in them. Those that do not follow the rules do not believe in them. Each side is certain they are right and each side is increasingly furious with the other side. It has become personal, and those with opposing beliefs embody wrongness and are loaded with responsibilities for whatever failures are happening. "If you didn't do that, then this would not happen!", or " It's your behaviour that is ruining everything for us all!"
Being right, needing to be right and proved right, shuts down communication. We can't all be right. There are very good motivations and arguments on both sides of this current situation, but we are backed into corners, fighting our cause and blaming the other, because for some reason, we cannot bear to let go of what we have come to believe in case we spontaneously combust. And here is where I saw a link between this problem and the experience of my mother and father. Bear with me, I mean no harm, and you may not like it. But this is the insight that made sense to me.
My mother represents the Lockdown. She is angry and afraid, she is triggered by loss and fear. Nothing can reach her when she is at her worst, and most vocal and reactive. But she is also loving, deeply intelligent and wonderful. It is just that she has created a narrative that explains to her what the object of her fury and fears are. Though her behaviour is hard to handle, it works for her and it gets her what she needs. But it exhausts her, and makes her feel lonely and isolated, because no one can save her, no one can help her, no one can take it away. It only got better when she decided to get better, and the long slow process of coming to terms with her depressions and how it made her act, was deeply impressive. She never got over her fears, but by the time she died, she understood them and tried hard to limit the harms she caused when they took over. She was, incidentally, quite a magnificent woman. Impressive, intelligent and loved.
My father represents anti Lockdown. He is an outsider, considered too eccentric to belong and he carries the burden of all the wrongs my mother could not explain. He is the archetypal scapegoat. It is not his way to follow the rules, he thinks outside the box and the response he gets from those who blame him for all manner of things he is unaware of, causes him great unhappiness. He means well, he is deeply educated, he reads and questions everything. But he is different, and lonely, and eccentric. He cannot see how his wife can believe the things she does believe, and he is astonished at how many people take her side and judge him harshly without even knowing him or talking to him. He is considered beyond the pale without anyone asking him for his story. My father's thinking was wide and free, but his life was lonely and his one marriage a disaster. He never really understood why he was cast out into the darkness by so many, but by the end of his life, he had caused so many people to love and admire him, simply because he was himself. And many of his insights proved right. He and my mother were able to meet each other at family gatherings, where it became more and more obvious that he was not a baddie.
The Scapegoat. Horns tied with red and sent out into the wilderness symbolically carrying all the sins of those who sent it out. Painting by William Holman Hunt.
I represent the general public. I do not know what to do for the best. There is a narrative on the one hand that is compelling and frightening, and a narrative on the other that is different and contrary. I, as the general public, cannot do both. I take sides and the side I take is the one that I hope gives me a quiet life. I take my mother's side. Taking the other side, my father's side, casts me beyond the pale. I am too afraid to do that and so I stick with my mother's side. She is more powerful and louder than my father and if I do not stay with her, I will be against her and the consequences are more awful than not staying with my father. So I try and destroy him. It is part of the deal.
There are those, it must be said, who support my father's story and are as vocal and punitive as my mother's faction. His side of this story is not all gentle academic dreamers and thinkers who don't know why things are this way. My father's side has also those who are just as furious and controlling as my mother's side. And my mother's side also has those who quietly take her pain with a pinch of salt, and remember that there are two sides to every story. There are times where I, as the general public in this little thought experiment, find on both sides not only righteousness, judgment and closed thinking, but also patience, moderation and the wish to understand.
Part three. Conclusion, in so far as there can be one.
We are locked in a prison of right think and wrong think. It feels, like my mother and father felt in their story, as if our whole being depends on maintaining our position for ourselves. It has become, like the conflict between my parents, entrenched. My mother as the lockdown, my father as the anti lockdown and me as the general public in between. There is life or death in this prison. If I let go of what I think, if I let the other side in even for a second, then I am wiped out as a person. My very being depends on keeping this going, I identify with it and if I lose control of it, I do not know who or what I am. If I am, in my parents' story, the public, I have had to chose a side. I choose the one that seems absolute but as time goes on, I see and feel there are inconsistencies. It is not true that there is a total goodie and a total baddie. How come my father became such a monster? I hadn't noticed him change, I saw no evidence at all of his wrongness. I remember feeling very sorry for him at times and longing for him to stand up for himself. But I stuck with the louder voice and stopped thinking for myself. Until I did think for myself.
And then, with help from an outsider (a therapist), and over time, I became more detached and less believing. I moved away from both stories, loved both parents and began to live and think for myself. It was always hard, I had to find firm boundaries in order to survive, I had to go back to square one and ask myself what do I think, what do I feel, and what do I want to believe.
I, as the general public in this story, can chose to move away from the loudness of both sides, my mother's and my father's, the Lockdown believers and the Lockdown non-believers, and while respecting both, walk away and make up my own mind. I wish I had had the courage sooner to say to my mother, " It feels real, but is it true?" and to my father, "Come back in from out there in the cold and stand up for yourself." I never actually did say either, but I thought it.
And in the end, like the hippie I really am, love is all there is. If we can only remember it.
This is humanity riding off into the sunset with nothing but love.
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