Der Apfel Fällt Nicht Weit Vom Stamm*

When I was a child my father was often angry.  We’d hear his key in the door and all fun would cease; we’d scarper like cockroaches at the switching of the light, to avoid his wrath.  If he was in a jolly mood, we’d be jolly, too, unless we were being teased, which was not uncommon.  If, as was more usual, he was cross, we’d stay out of his way.

When I was a teenager and going to parties and things, my dad used to lay down the law from time to time.  ‘Twice a week is quite enough for going out!’ he would pronounce ‘And midnight is quite late enough!’  (These days I have much sympathy with this view.)  So how did I react to this?  I thought ‘Right!’ and stopped going out at all.  ‘That’ll show him!’ I thought, as I sulked in my room.  ‘He’ll be sorry!’  Needless to say, he never appeared to notice, though my mother most likely put in a few words for me.  My younger brother was given the exact same restrictions, whereupon he, with no further ado, went out three nights in a row.  My dad was apoplectic, but my brother remained calm.  ‘What?’ he asked, evenly.  ‘Saturday and Sunday were for last week, Monday was for this.’  My admiration for his nerve knew no bounds.


My dad was impossible to please.  It is hard to please someone who is angry.  They are disinclined to be pleased.  Add to that his gruff, New York Jewish humour that meant he always had to knock and belittle, seemingly because he just didn’t know any other way.  98% in an exam would elicit a query about what had gone wrong.  That sort of thing.

When I was pregnant with my first, I was under the care of quite an alternative private hospital.  We were encouraged to get to know all the small team of midwives, so we’d not be with strangers when the day came to deliver the baby.  The midwives were trained in additional modalities like aromatherapy.  And one had gone on to qualify as a counsellor.  Included in the package we paid for were some sessions with her; a lovely, warm, sensible woman.  And I remember talking over with her my concerns about becoming a parent.  I was worried that I would be like my father.  That my children would be afraid of me, that I would be too demanding and appear to them to be unpredictable.  I was not worried about being like my mother.  That did not occur to me.  The counsellor pointed out to me as well that whenever I discussed the future, my as yet unborn child was a teenager.  I never seemed to talk about having an actual baby.


And as it turns out, I fear that I have taken some of the worst aspects of BOTH parents.  I suppose we all do it.  And I suppose as well that there may be some good parts of both that I have inherited.  I think I had high expectations of my children.  But they were always realised and indeed exceeded.  I never had to do the ‘why didn’t you get 150%?’ joke that my father literally said when I once got full marks.  I was genuinely delighted with their performances almost all the time.  But I was often angry.  From shortly after my twins were born a few years after their sister, I think I had begun to be angry a lot of the time.  It may not be unrelated to the fact that it was about then that my husband decided to leave his well-paid job and go it alone.  This proved very stressful, because it turns out that just telling everyone how extremely clever and capable you are, is not actually the same as being able to run a piss up in a brewery, even if your wife believes, as you do, that the sun shines out of your arse, contrary evidence notwithstanding.

These days I am not angry at all.  Arguably there are times I should be angry, but it is extremely rare that I am.  I’m sad quite a bit, and disappointed in myself, which can often be an excuse for anger.  But not so much these days.  And when I am angry, it is not all-consuming like it used to be.  Maybe another way of putting it is that my behaviour is more equable, even possibly more rational?  It must be so much more pleasant to be around.  It’s certainly more pleasant from the inside.


* The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
But I am learning that history does not have to repeat itself.


Image: one of precisely two apples that reached maturity this year on the tree we inherited in our new home.


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Florence Feynman

I am a middle aged, middle class woman, thinking.

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