they fuck each other up, your Mum and Dad

Everyone thinks their parents are strange.  Or at the very least endearingly kooky in some way.  Mine are plainly odd, first and foremost, it appears to me, in their relationship itself.

You should never presume or make judgements about any relationship from the outside.  You don’t have all the information, the chances are that you’re wrong and you probably don’t really care all that much anyway.  Which is why it’s fun and reckless to make the prejudgements.  But with your parents, if they’ve always been together and, just there, a constant part of your life for as long as you can remember, you feel this gives you a little more insight. Reasonable enough.

My folks rarely demonstrate any outward sign of affection towards each other.  Not necessarily remarkable because plenty of couples of a certain age don’t.  My Dad is fundamentally quite lazy and self-serving around the house.  By the same token Mum does do everything but gives the impression of enjoying her martyrdom.  It’s normal, natural.  She wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she didn’t feel aggrieved or wronged.  I’m constantly paranoid about not offering the correct level of gratitude.

It’s a bit like getting used to being miserable, playing sad music, watching melancholic films, absorbing yourself into that perpetuating cycle: easier than trying to wrench yourself out, force change.  I’m probably just as much a victim of that.

Yet they sit there in this probably dysfunctional empty shell marriage for years: passive, unmoving, equally lazy in their own ways, equally disinclined to change.

Before I left home for university, when Mum was first around the menopausal stage, I’d sometimes get back from college to find her in tears about being unappreciated, taken for granted.  It wasn’t comfortable.  What could I say?  Yes, you’re being a mug?  So, are you happy?  What’s keeping you here?

The most recent gnarly family trauma is Dad’s ignorance of his eldest Grandson, a three year old boy with plenty of vim and vigour, energy and bustle, prone to the occasional temper tantrum.  I’ve little experience with kids but he’s three years old, that’s what they do, right?  Dad doesn’t engage or play when he’s in his delightful good moods, to any degree, but freely dishes out advice when he misbehaves; stares daggers at him for disrupting meals.  This disappoints everyone.

Apparently he was the same with us when my brother and I were that age, and didn’t have a father-son relationship which was that healthy itself.  But that’s no excuse.  Play is part intuition, part emulation.  To me, at least.  Dad simply doesn’t try, which upsets my brother and his wife.

Today he was out of the house and Mum walked into Dad’s office room, where I happened to be working.  She told me how she’d explained to him that he should try to get engaged more, that it does upset people and is an issue.  He was subsequently in a sulky mood but would be better after he’d done some exercise.  This was the catalyst for her to reel off a list of her biggest gripes with him and gradually descend into an emotional whine about their relationship.

“You know, I asked him if he still loved me recently,” she said.  My stomach tightened as she spoke, I didn’t like where this was going.  I’d been home for Christmas too long now.  I didn’t have any answers for her.  I glanced between her and a hole punch while a dated screensaver played.

“He paused,” Mum continued.  “properly thought about it.  Then, after a second, do you know what he said?”

“No.”

“ ‘I’m very fond of you’.”

I sighed, shook my head.  Thought about hugging her but selfishly discounted the idea in fear of making everything more emotional.

“You know!” she said, for something else to say.

I shook my head and sighed again.  I didn’t know.  Still don’t.  Probably never will.

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