So, this is me today.
It’s nothing much; certainly not anything that won’t go away after a couple of days and at my (more than considerable) age, you’d think I’d have gotten used to it by now. But it still comes crashing along with all the force of a speeding train and knocks me out of kilter for about thirty hours. The timing sucks, because my dad’s coming up this weekend to pick up the Son for his two week summer holiday stint. It means I’m in a grumpy mood before he even starts in on the criticisms. Breathe. Calm. Breathe. Calm. Find a soothing image.
My relationship with my dad is a strange one, but probably not so very different from countless other people the whole world over. Throughout my teenage years, I was – quite frankly – vile. I was independent from an early age and resented being told what to do. I’m still like that now, if I’m honest. I was a nightmare when I learned to drive. I have vague recollections of snapping ‘yes, I get it’ a lot at poor Mr. Twigg, my driving instructor. Now, if I’m sitting – say – attempting to assemble the one Necron that my Necron army current consists of, any helpful advice invokes much the same reaction. ‘Yes. I get it.’ I lke to be self-sufficient. It’s a good thing and bad thing in equal measure.
Anyway, as a teenager, me and my dad didn’t exactly get on so well. He criticised everything I did, but not in a nasty way. In an offhand, casual kind of way that had absolutely no malice behind it. Now that I’m a parent myself, I understand him a damn sight better. The problem my dad and I had (and still have to a degree) is a lack of ability to communicate with each other. We are the shining example of ‘what happens when A Generation simply can’t engage with the Next Generation’. He and I have so few things in common, but we do find common ground. He likes film music, I like film music. He enjoys sci-fi, I adore it. But the differences are too many to measure. He doesn’t read fiction that I’m aware of, for example. He doesn’t like music with lyrics. He can’t understand why I adore the internet and its crazy environs. Every so often at the back of my mind, I can visualise him standing just over my shoulder, shaking his head. The Generation Gap between us isn’t completely insurmountable, but it’s pretty damn huge.
My friend Nik and I were talking recently about how our generation is the last to truly have anything completely in common with our parents. We grew up in the eighties, a time when you still had to get up and cross the room to choose one of the four TV channels (until the remote controls-on-wires came along); a time where school holidays meant playing outside from dawn until dusk with only the occasional shout of the word ‘car!’ to prevent us from painful death. We knew it was stupid to play down at the lakes, but we did it anyway. I went in once. I remember making up some blatant and completely unrealistic lie about how I’d slipped on the bank of the brook on the way home and fallen in. The brook was about a centimeter deep. I was soaked.
I’ll always thank my mother for accepting the excuse and not telling me off. I get the impression that ‘hey, she didn’t drown, where’s the harm’? I never played at the lake again. Y’know. I learned my lesson.
But our kids have grown up in the age of remote controls. My son has never known a world without internet, or laptops, or mobile phones. He doesn’t go outside an awful lot, but always engages when we do. I was standing over his shoulder the other day watching him on his laptop. His ability to multi-task outstrips even mine – and I’m pretty short on internet attention span. At any given time I have about seven or eight or more different things on the go. He has more. He can flip between RPing on World of Warcraft to watching YouTube videos without batting an eyelid. But he still has the ability to switch off the technology and switch on the conversation when gently prised away.
I like to think that I’m a billion times more approachable for my son than my dad was for me when I was his age. I think I’ve found the balance between friend and parent, but it’s hard. I’ve learned a lot about my own parents through being a parent myself. I’m a sort of… parent sandwich. I have my dad, which makes me a child, but I have my son, which makes me a parent. I catch myself constantly saying phrases my own parents used on me, despite all the countless times I promised I wouldn’t.
When mum died, my dad and I had to redefine our relationship. It’s definitely improved, but there are still times when he disapproves very loudly down the phone of something I’ve done, or something I’ve said I’m going to do. Whenever that happens, the rebellious teenager who flounced her way through doors and stomped up stairs comes to the fore. I’m able to ‘fight back’ now, which is something I could never have done when we had our screaming arguments back then and I’ve discovered that if only I’d stood up for myself back then, we’d probably have gotten along a whole lot better for longer.
Regardless, I am the person I am today thanks to a good upbringing from both my parents and much as he drives me completely mental, I do love my dad. Even if the minute he arrives the TV will be switched on and we will all be subjected to endless re-runs of M*A*S*H. He goes home on Monday, taking the son with him for a couple of weeks. Two days. I can do it.
Wish me luck.