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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Scapegoats and Cycles.

I noticed the other day how very suddenly Kiedis' hands look like miniature versions of my brother's.

My son has my long fingers, complete with the crooked middle one, but where as mine are nearly impossibly thin and small, his have the beginnings of heft to them, strong and thick without being cumbersome or grotesque. His palms are slightly narrow but still broad, and have lost any vestige of baby fat about them. He has knuckles, now, instead of dimples on the backs of his hands.

His hands look like those of a miniature man and in this revelation I realize that my boy is almost five, that while his mind is locked up in so many other places his body is steadfastly marching on into boyhood, with or without him.

And I worry about the man he will become, much more than I ever let on.

A few weeks ago, or maybe it was months (time is a social construct I'm having a hard time grasping outside of the hours of the day at hand lately, please forgive) my dad jokingly said something about having Narcissistic Personality Disorder and I froze momentarily, not sure how to respond. I doubted that he'd been actually diagnosed with it because that would mean he'd have to be in therapy and *that* seems highly unlikely, but maybe he'd read something on it and saw more of himself than he'd have liked. Or maybe he said it sarcastically, because someone spat it at him accusatorily at some juncture in his life and he was looking for a reaction from me, the only one in our family who talks so openly about, well, everything. I couldn't read him, so I'm still unsure if I just failed a test in one way or another by just raising an eyebrow and saying oh yeah? as blithely as possible.

I tucked that nugget away for future contemplation when a tweet from a website that is generally about survivorship of the hardness of life -- whatever that means to you, it's probably there -- popped up about being the adult child of someone with NPD. The timing was too on point for me to dismiss, so I clicked through.

But I'm not entirely convinced that my dad has an actual disorder -- I mean, we all are special snowflakes and have our own ways our ice fractals -- but I wondered about the possibility of being a child of a child of a child of someone with such a way of interacting with the world. I pondered about how much of this behavior is learned by example because that's what parenting was for you and looked like and so you do it because you don't know any different or better or, due to this particular strain of disorder, you have an inflated sense of self-importance so OF COURSE you're doing it right even if it doesn't look pretty or always settle in your stomach late at night.

And while this is how I felt in my childhood, the description doesn't fit my dad, not enough I guess. It maybe kind of fits the stories I've heard of what my grandfather was like as a parent, but then also doesn't fit the stories I've heard of him as a husband -- though I've been privy to rumblings about some other things that I won't discuss here because it's not my story to tell and also I'd like to survive the next family gathering. I don't know much about my great-grandfather other than he was hard and took no shit and the requisite if you think this is bad you should've had to grow up with him.

Four generations on, this is an overarching theme to the childhoods of my family members.

The more I thought on it, the more I could hear the voices of people who have known me most of my life tell me how much like my dad I am in personality while being a near carbon copy of my mother physically, and the more I could see myself in those words, in how I react to the world around me (often defensively). The times that I've been a harsher parent, a less forgiving parent, the "mean" parent because Kyle has always been in the least emotionally absent if not physically as well and therefore discipline, along with nearly everything else, is left to me filled my mind, my heart heavy with the realization that while not spot on, the description of the parent could be mutated to fit me, too.

And in the description of the scapegoat child, I saw not only myself, but Kiedis.

There, sitting at my computer, staring at a screen, I realized that I've been doing this all wrong when it comes to my boy. That I've been harboring for his entire life so much pain and heartbreak and disappointment and frustration towards my children's father for not being the father and husband he'd promised me he'd be, that I believed he would be.

And because my sweet boy came into being at the major cataclysmic point -- his coming into being in the last stages of pregnancy and his birth -- where Kyle chose to abandon us in every way without actually leaving us and because he, too, was not everything I'd hoped he'd be and was so obviously less than perfect (though in no way less than) that maybe, maybe I've been completely unintentionally scapegoating him.

Then my heart shattered because I know what it's like to be that child, the one that can never do anything right and is always in the way making things complicated who always has something wrong with them that can't be easily remedied, and how awful it feels to think you're responsible for your parent's wrath and unhappiness.

And it is so unflinchingly not his fault.

I mean, in my case, I can see why a totally unplanned baby at 21 years old during your senior year of college could make you a little resentful. Especially when that baby ended up being smarter (and therefore sassier) than most kids twice her age for most of her life. And I can see why, with the upbringing he had, that the logical solution was to then "break" that child because he had been previously broken and that's they way the world works so you better get used to it, toots.

Because you'd rather it was me than someone out there, I can promise you that. Just feel lucky that you weren't raised by my dad, or you'd have it ten times worse.

But the choice to live that way is just that -- a choice -- and it's one I don't have to make. When we were dating, Kyle and I spoke of our separate daddy issues and one of my biggest things was that I wanted to end the cycle of hardness and breakage that runs through my family tree. I wanted my future children to have two loving, present, emotionally available parents with a stable and healthy relationship with each other and with them so that they never had to grow up feeling like they were anything less that worthy and nothing short of amazing.

I wanted to end the cycle.

And now I'm just left hoping that it's not too late.