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May 20, 2008

would love your story

i am interested in a particular memory: the uncomfortable moment when you first see your parent (mother or father) as being weak...being human. could you describe that moment? and tell me how old you were.


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Comments (124)

I was 13 or so. It was when my dad wanted to talk to me about sex. We were on a trip with just the two of us. He's a doctor, so of course he whips out the medical books and starts showing me all of these diagrams, but the whole time his voice is cracking and his hands are shaking. It was the first time my father ever showed me his was really nervous. This being the same guy that has been in the army as a medic. Always ready to try something new like mountain biking or scuba diving or white water rafting. It was the first time I realized he was human.

Posted by: Mike at May 20, 2008 11:49 AM

I was about 8, and in trouble for something and my dad had yelled at me a lot. For not doing my homework or for getting a bad grade or something. A year before I'd been locked in my room until I could learn my multiplication tables. Learning was a trauma for us then.

I took this particular yelling at hard and went to my room and cried and cried. My dad came in and asked me what was wrong with me and I remember I just kept sobbing over and over again "I'm stupid! I'm stupid!" He sat on the bed and held me and silently tears poured down his cheeks.

Later, when I got on the bus to California when I was 17, as it pulled away, I looked out the window and he was standing there silently crying again all alone, looking tiny, like a little boy in his hip braces.

He's always been so terrifying, imposing, commanding. When he cries, I'm undone, afraid, ashamed, and unsure of the world. Since he's always seemed so incredibly super human - the man who fights polio and now post polio against all odds, at 38 I am still not comfortable with his tears.

Posted by: Phoebe at May 20, 2008 12:03 PM

I must have been 5 or 6. I remember watching my father make tea for himself, and he would do the same routine every time. He'd pour the hot water in the mug and let the tea steep. Then he'd add milk. Each time he added the milk, the tea would reach too high in the mug and in order to continue, he'd have to lean over the mug on the table, and slurp some of the tea off the top to prevent it from spilling when he picked up the mug.

I thought to myself... Why doesn't he just pour a little less water in that mug, then he wouldn't need to bend over and slurp the tea off the top.

This is the sad moment when I realized I was smarter than my own father.

Posted by: Matt at May 20, 2008 12:04 PM

When I was 10 my mom was working at a retail craft store during the lunchtime shift. She asked me to go buy her some food from a nearby restaurant and handed me a couple bills and change saying, "This is all I have.", relying on me to make the decision on what to buy.

Posted by: Seth at May 20, 2008 12:06 PM

From the age of 6 I've though my father was weak. At that age my mom told me a story about how she had won a tennis tournament. My father, seeing the trophy, told her that there wasn't any hard competition there anyway. My mom was so angry she threw out the trophy. I knew he was petty and small even then.

Posted by: billbraske at May 20, 2008 12:07 PM

For My Dad: I was 12. My grandfather died of Cancer and I wanted to go to the wake (my first) to say goodbye. I was crying the instant we walked in and had to be taken aside. My Dad told me all about how he had no more pain, no more cancer. I remember thinking he was so strong because that was HIS dad there and he was handling it so well. Then he told me I was his best friend and that he'd take care of me and we could sit in that room as long as I needed.

After another minute or two, I looked up and noticed my dad had put his sunglasses on. From underneath the glasses I saw a single tear peak out. To this day I don't think it was so much the fact that his dad was dead - he really truly believed it was for the best - as it was the fact the he knew someday he'd be in the coffin and I'd be having this same talk with my child.

It remains the only time I've ever seen my dad cry, and this is the first time I've ever told anyone I saw it. I wouldn't say that seeing him cry made me think he was weak - but it did make me realize he was human.

Posted by: Derek at May 20, 2008 12:11 PM

It wasn't until I was about 23 and we were atop St. Peter's Basicilca in Rome. I had no idea my father was afraid of heights. He barely took his back off the interior wall as he side-stepped his way around the circular top. It made me sad that he couldn't enjoy the view as well, but to his credit, he made it up there.

Actually, come to think of it, I saw my father cry when we were leaving his parents house when I was about 11 or so. We lived about 15 hours away and were just about to drive back. I think then I made a good realization of how my parents were much more linked to my grandparents than I would ever be.

Posted by: ben at May 20, 2008 12:12 PM

Let me preface this. I haven't spoken to my father in nearly a year. My birthday, July 13th, last year to be exact. (Mark it in your calendar, I expect a card.)

And I guess this is less a story of me first recognizing my father as being a weak man, but more about my willingness to call him on it and the fallout from that. I can't remember the first time I thought he was weak but I do remember feeling that a lot, even as a kid. He had anger issues, smoked pot religiously and was generally a cock to be around most days. He worked a lot and we typically struggled to get by comfortably. My mother started to see a lot of his tendencies in me, moodiness, lack of motivation, etc. She ended up leaving my father when I was 15 and he didn't really handle that well. He actually attacked my mom in front of my sister (12 at the time) and me. He took off before police showed up, but not before slitting the tires on my mom's car. I didn't speak to him for a very long time after that, or at least it felt like a long time. We were awkwardly reunited when I went to visit my grandparents, on the condition that he stayed away. He didn't.

We eventually began building a relationship, but most visits would end up devolving into him bitching about my mother and how if I knew how she really was, I'd see his point. Again, to a 15 year old. My son was born in November 2006 and I was truly looking forward to seeing the relationship that he would build with my father, but it seemed like my father was never particularly interested. He would say things like "Man, I can't wait til he gets to be 2 or 3. That's when they're really fun". This of course broke my heart. I didn't want my son to have to wait to know his grandpa.

Last year, after a horrendous Father's day where I felt both rejected as a son and not respected as a man and a father with a new family, I decided to write my dad a letter explaining my feelings. I told him that I had no place in my life for such a negative force and that I inherited a lot of bad stuff from him, his temper, moodswings, and the more and more lately, my anger and frustration with him was being directed at my wife. I told him that the ball was in his court to make a relationship with me and my family work. I didn't hear back from him for weeks and weeks. I figured either it fell on deaf ears or he was just too chicken-shit to respond.

Then I get a call on my birthday. I see his name on my caller ID and my heart starts to pound. We chat for a moment and he wishes me happy birthday and goes to his stock self-depricating line of how he would've bought me a card if he wasn't so lazy. Then he told me he got my letter and he didn't want to get into it now, but that I should know that I'm a man now and I can't go around blaming him for all my problems. I was shocked and disappointed and I reverted to the same timid, non-confrontational 15 year old that stood there while he hit my mom in the head with a mug he was holding. I told him "ok" and quickly got off the phone. Then I got angry, and before I could scream at Jill I picked up the phone and called him back. I said "How dare you accuse me of blaming others when that's all you've ever done in your life. You've had people making excuses for you and telling you it's not your fault since you were born." He just gave me a cocky, unaffected "I guess...' over and over. I finally shouted "I Guess?!? FUCK YOU" and hung up. He called right back and I let it go to voicemail where he basically said "fuck you too" or at least he would have if he had the braincells left to get a coherent statement out.

It's funny really, I think about him a lot, but mainly as a "what not to do" resource. He and my mother have been divorced for almost as long as they were married, yet if he was given the chance, I think he'd still rant for hours about her and he'd take her back in a heartbeat if she asked. He still maintains a relationship with my sister and he's told her that he's writing me a letter, but again, we're almost a year gone now and I haven't heard a peep. And like I said in my letter, the ball is in his court.

Posted by: John Williams at May 20, 2008 12:19 PM

When I was about 12 years old, I realized that my mother was an alcoholic, also being taught by my family what an alcoholic was. From that day on, she was like an entirely different person. She was no longer this great, invincible MOM, but a person with a terrible problem. I thought of her that way until the day she died from liver failure. I don't know what I think of her now.

Posted by: Michael at May 20, 2008 12:21 PM

I'm commenting because I love your kaleidascope toy.

I think I have always seen my parents as vulnerable. They wer farm kids who just never learned how to get by in the big bad city. I remember they always had pinched, drawn faces as though they were in desparate need of being cherished by someone. They were locked too deeply in their own misery to cherish us so we did not know how to cherish them. I thought everyone was this desparate and that was what religion was for -- to relieve that existential angst. It wasn't till I was 40 something that I began to see them as complex human beings with other emotions. That was also when I began to notice how manipulative they had been during our childhood. I chose not to bring children into this world.

Posted by: joan at May 20, 2008 12:24 PM

My dad was planting a rosebush in the backyard for my mom. I got to go watch him. I was small enough to be up to his shoulder when he was squatting down. The rosebush was potted in a metal can, and he cut the can with pruning shears to split it open to get the rosebush out.

As he maneuvered the plant and pot to release the plant, the metal can cut his left hand between the thumb and forefinger. I had never heard the "S" word before but I understood right away what it was for. I can still hear it the way he said it - a primal "S" word, no time to think about who might be standing nearby.

He put his hand to his mouth and spit an arc of blood to the grass behind him . The afternoon sun caught highlights of red and yellow orange against the backdrop of green lawn. He was wearing a black plaid shirt he wore a lot in those days. I waited silent a moment then asked if he was okay and he said, "yes," and kept planting, "sorry about the cursing."

What happened to the moment next falls into imagination. Did I go get my mom? Did he go treat the wound? Did she come out and ask what happened? I see the sunlit arc of blood and spit and green grass and still sense the toddler's insight that daddy is one of us.

Posted by: jeano at May 20, 2008 12:31 PM

I was 10 - it was 1967, the year of Expo in Montreal - the summer of love. My mother, 31 years old at the time, and I were standing on the front step of the house and she looked out at the late afternoon suburban sky and said out loud but to herself:

"There's a whole world out there full of people who are doing things. And I'm here."

I didn't see her as weak but certainly as a woman unfulfilled - and certainly capable of being a vastly different person than she was - rather than just a mother and housewife. But it was the time and that was the place and there she was - and I saw her not as "Mommy" but as a woman with longing, desire and sadness within her.

It makes me wonder how my son sees me.

Posted by: Robbo at May 20, 2008 12:38 PM

When my dad slammed my older brother into the wall for giving mom a hard time. The anger was a weakness, one that I share. I know when this moment occurred for my son, and it makes me sad. Can he stop the cycle?

Posted by: tech at May 20, 2008 12:39 PM

Seeing my dad cry at his fathers funeral service 2 years ago in the fall. I think the saddest thing in the world is seeing grown men cry.

Posted by: rocco at May 20, 2008 12:43 PM

The only weakness I ever witnessed in the short time I was with my father was watching him slowly die of cancer. On his last day of life he couldn't even sit up under his own strength. His speech was labored in pain. That's pretty much when my young world shattered: how could someone so strong be destroyed?

Posted by: Theorris at May 20, 2008 12:55 PM

My father has always been the grounded, logical, counterbalance to most of the women in our family. They tend to be an emotional lot. When things get overblown and tempers go wild he is expected to be the one to calm everyone down and bring about a resolution in his stern, level headed way.
A few years ago my grandmother had a severe stroke that signaled the outset of her declining years. Every time we would visit she would be a little less herself- confusing us for other people, forgetting who we were entirely- we watched the woman we loved slowly fade away while the body remained. Throughout all of that, she always knew exactly who her son-in-law was. No matter who she thought the rest of us were, she always knew my dad was "Sonny".
"Don't worry about it, Sonny's here."
When she finally passed, my immediate family made our trip up for the funeral. As the service was ending, despite my own emotional confusion, I could see that my dad looked different somehow- almost shaken. He later told my mother, and no one else, that he had seen my grandmother standing at the end of her own casket, staring at him throughout the service. My mom, being mom, spread the word like wildfire. The thought that he alone, of all the people there, was the one person affected in that way has always amazed me. He has never spoken of it since.

Posted by: panzyfaust at May 20, 2008 12:56 PM

My moment was in the fourth grade. I was struggling to fit into a rural school system that served several declining little towns in Western Pennsylvania. I was reading and writing at an advanced level yet continually struggling with teachers who didn't know what to do with me. The area churned out factory workers, homemakers, and soldiers and to aspire to anything beyond was discouraged.

When I voiced my frustrations to my parents, they told me that the school was good enough for the both of them and I should accept my fate. It was then that I realized that my parents were tainted with the same small-mindedness as the rest of the area.

Posted by: jennifer at May 20, 2008 12:59 PM

When I was younger (8 or 9), I saw my dad cry. It was at his mother's funeral and was the first time I had ever seen him show that type of emotion. However, as I got older and that memory was replayed, I learned it was not weakness that caused it and he really was the strongest man I knew.

Fast forward just over 35 years or so and hearing that my dad had had a heart attack. He did not even know it and they only found it months later during an examination. The doctors said he was living on borrowed time and he needed 5-6 bypasses (the operation was "optional", though not if you talked to my mom. Well, the day came and I had traveled to SC to be there for my mom and dad. The operation took longer than they expected, but everything went well. The moment, though, followed when we were first allowed to see him after his surgery. He was lying there in the ICU, pale and not moving (still under the anethsia). It was there that I saw how weak and frail we all are.

Peace,

Jim

Posted by: Jim at May 20, 2008 1:13 PM

When I was 16, my dad and I went on a trip to England and were on a canal for a couple of weeks. The next to last day, we were going through a long series of locks and he threw his back out, which had been a recurring problem for him. Previously--even the one time he had to go to the hospital--he never lost his sense of humor, never got holed up inside his pain. But there, across an ocean from home, he became effectively paralyzed, and all of a sudden I realized that he wasn't this dauntless man who could suffer anything. Rather, he, like everyone, had a threshold.

Posted by: Theo at May 20, 2008 2:02 PM

The moment when I realized my parents were only human came when I was about 8 or 9 years old. We were on our way back home from shopping, and for some reason my dad was trying to remove the plastic tags from the clothes we just bought while he was driving.

About a block from the house the pocketknife he was using slipped and he sliced open his hand pretty badly. He raced into the house and I remember standing there shocked, hearing his frantic cursing from the house as I stared at the blood all over the steering wheel, door, and porch.

It was the first time I had seen either of my parents bleed, and I realized then that they were just fallible people like everyone else and not the demi-gods they seemed through a child's eyes.


P.S. It's interesting that most of these epiphanies of humanity revolve around the father. I wonder what that indicates about our perception of our parents?

Posted by: Alex at May 20, 2008 2:18 PM

When my parents got divorced and my mom packed us kids in a volkswagon to drive us to grandma's 3 hours away. My mom stopped at a store and bought a cup of coffee and asked me to hold on to it while she backed out of the parking spot and a little spilled on me and I winced. It seemed to hurt her more than it hurt me and for the first time I saw her as a young woman whose life was falling apart.
I was 7.

Posted by: tristero at May 20, 2008 2:19 PM

I was about 9 or 10. My Dad came and sat on my bed to tell me the cat had been run over. All I could see was that he was drunk. I had never seen him drunk. I am not sure i had seen anyone drunk. I don't know how I knew what drunk was. But I knew he was drunk. I wasn't scared - just curious. He wasn't my Daddy - just a drunk guy. i didn't give a shit about the cat.

Posted by: Catherine at May 20, 2008 2:24 PM

I think I was 16 or 17. My father took my brother and I on a white-water rafting trip on the New River in West Virginia. After we passed through a particularly rough area we settled into a smoother passage. We were all chuckling and smiling with each other when I noticed a little cluster of loose hairs on my dad's forehead. My smile faded and I (shamefully) told him he had "something" on his forehead. He picked up the loose hairs and we made awkward eye contact and never spoke of it again.

Posted by: Joe at May 20, 2008 2:27 PM

I don't think this really occurred to me until I was nearly 21 years old. I'd been much of a solitary person all my life, independently seeking my own entertainment and aspirations almost manically. I think it was such a furor for me because I'd never really been around like-minded people, growing up in a small rural area I at some point stepped beyond the small-town mind of it all during adolescence, and never turned back.

It wasn't until I came to university that I realized there were hundreds of like-minds, and I settled down some, figured out a path for myself, and finally left home for a university a few hundred miles away from home. Neither of my older sisters had strayed far from home, so it wasn't until long periods of absence of my parents in my life that I started to notice them changing - like REALLY changing. You know how it is when you have your own cat or dog and their growth is so seamless that it doesn't seem to happen, but your distant friend's pet seems to grow in spurts because you seem them less often? This accentuation of growth and aging came as a shock to me when I started to notice it in my parents. I also bore witness to how much they treasured my company. I'd never realized how much my father loved me until he was departing from a visit, and he just couldn't stop hugging me.

He's not the emotional type, but when he said "I miss you, son" I really felt it.

Posted by: ty at May 20, 2008 2:28 PM

My father was badly and suddenly injured the spring I was 11. He lived, in the ICU, for about a month. I did not realise he was so badly hurt, and dying, until nearly the end of the month. My mother and I were outside the hospital, and it was a beautiful warm late May day. She put her arms around me, to hold and comfort me. I can still smell the lilacs.

But then, I realised I was holding her: I had become the comforting, strong adult, and she the helpless lost child.

From that moment on, at 11, 12, 13 and many years after, I was the strong adult, and she the child I had to care for. I think of that moment so often, and especially now, when the lilacs bloom.

Posted by: RW at May 20, 2008 2:48 PM

I don't know exactly how old I was, not much older than 9 probably. We were out on the back patio in late evening--the rest of the house had already hid the sun for sunset, my dad and me, and I was wanting him to play with me. This was when he was working a grueling job, so he was always tired and never wanted to play. I remember he arthritically got down on his knees and told me he was getting old (well, he was like 40 then). Having arthritis was always an old person thing I thought, so I believed him ;o

Posted by: Allison at May 20, 2008 2:54 PM

When I was in 8th grade, my mother was nearing the end of her fight with terminal cancer. I had always known her to be the most wonderful, intelligent, skeptic. But as death approached she started clutching for anything that might save her. She started attending these wacko hands on healing tent revival meetings and would come home and claim to be healed. I remember listening to her and outwardly nodding, but internally realizing her desperation. It was a single moment that made me realize her humanity as well as a the moment I became an atheist.

Posted by: Jake at May 20, 2008 3:01 PM

When I was about 7 or so, my mother got into a minor traffic accident while taking me and my younger sister home from school. The accident was her fault. She worked hard, and was very busy and stressed, and just wasn't paying attention.

Later that week, my parents had dragged me along to a get-together held by some of their friends, and I overheard my mother tell the accident story, but for some reason changing and leaving out important details. Including the fact that she had caused the accident. Of course, lacking an adult understanding behind the motivations for lying, I piped up and set the record straight, much to my parents' embarrassment. She cried and yelled at me the whole way home.

But at 1 or 2 a.m., she came into my room, woke me up, and said she was sorry, both for lying to her friend, and for yelling at me when I corrected her.

Posted by: andrew at May 20, 2008 3:08 PM

I was 16, and we had just received news that our hometown had suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina.

We were watching a local man being interviewed in front of a heap of pilings and shattered glass that was once his home. My dad recognized the man as a friend who lived about 10 minutes away from our house.

He started crying and his voice cracked.
That may have been the scariest moment in my life.

Posted by: Emily at May 20, 2008 3:20 PM

I was 15. My mother just found out my father had been cheating on her with a friend she had been helping. I came home and asked my father where my mother was. He said he didn't know. I went upstairs and into their bedroom. I had a sense that someone was there. I opened the closet door and saw my mother laying on the floor in the closet crying. I'll never forget that moment. It's the day I realized she needed protection. A decision I made then that I will always regret because it caused me to build a wall between us so she wouldn't get hurt any more. (I felt like I was partially to blame for her pain - it's a long story.)

Posted by: D. at May 20, 2008 3:31 PM

My childhood memories are rich with my father's voice, answering my impatient "but, why?" questions with stories and analogies and science. No matter the area, from politics to physics, my father knew the answers. He was also the strongest man i knew: he swung me around in giggling circles until I couldn't walk straight, and he routinely swam the length of the pool with both of my brothers and myself astride his back.

This magical era, where I saw my father as some sort of all-powerful, all-knowing being ended abruptly with a blown lightbulb. We had recently moved, and my new bedroom was equipped with a ceiling fan. The light fixture portion of the contraption included a translucent glass globe which had to be removed before replacing the bulb. When I asked my father to examine the malfunctioning bulb, I was astonished that he stopped in the living room to pick up a ladderback chair. Why did he need a chair? Couldn't he just reach it?

Undoubtedly, this had been a long day for my father. I imagine moving a family of six across town would be difficult for anyone; he had the additional pressure of doing it without movers or even close friends. The only people that handled our belongings were... us. Mom, Dad, me (9), and my two brothers (6 and 4). Additionally, my third brother was about three months old. Looking back, I'm sure it was the end of the day and he was run ragged.

Nevertheless, as we headed down the new hallway, I asked him: "why do you need a chair? can't you just reach it?"

For the first time in my life my father snapped at me with an intensity that was incommensurate with my actions. (I had been reprimanded several times, but generally rightly so).

I will never forget the anger and the sorrow in his voice as he said, "Sarah, I'm just a person! I can't do everything by myself!"... and then he sighed and added softly, "I need the chair so I can reach the fixture, so we can see what's going on with your light. I'll take care of it."

I was bewildered and upset and ran to another room to cry, not quite sure what had happened, and unable to do anything to fix it.

Years later, what I remember is the intensity of our mutual loss. How much we both wanted him to be my hero, how much we both hated his shortcomings, and how gingerly we've treated each other since. He doesn't want to disappoint me again, and I don't want to hurt him with my expectations.

Our relationship has never quite recovered, and now I change my own blown bulbs.

Posted by: Sarah at May 20, 2008 3:38 PM

Damn that question. It's a good one, I mean.

When I was around nine, my parents said I could have a couple of friends come for a sleep over. I thought the understanding was that my father, who was an alcoholic, would refrain from drinking when my friends Louise and Edwina were there. That was a mistake. He got falling down drunk, came home around eleven p.m., pushed his way into my room and scared the hell out of my friends. I was sad and embarrassed and angry that he couldn't even stay sober for one night so that I could pretend to have a normal childhood for even one day.

A few years later, I watched my mother (who normally didn't drink) accept a frozen strawberry margarita at a friend's house and I realized a few things: One was how fragile my existence was and how much I depended on my mom for stability and even her taking a single drink of alcohol could mean the complete unraveling of any kind of safety or security in my life. The other thing was that I saw for the first time how little she got to have fun because she was always trying to be the strong one because my father was so weak.

It's been more than 18 years since I've spoken to my father. The last time I saw him was at my younger brother's funeral and he didn't recognize me. He shook my hand as though I were a stranger.

Posted by: Brenda at May 20, 2008 3:43 PM

My dad got something in his eye once, and cried kinda loudly about it. That was the first time I ever saw him cry, and, actually, the last too.

When I was seven, my mom suddenly went into a full-on yelling EVENT in the middle of dinner about how she was sick of the whole wife-and-mother routine. I'd never heard a word of complaint from her before about her life, or how she thought anyone was treating her, but I had at least already learned that Parents Aren't Always Happy, so that lessened the shock a little bit. Now that I think about it, I'm kinda surprised it didn't change my understanding of our family more. She went away for a few hours or whatever, and whenever she came back "over it" I just accepted that and went on with business as usual.

Posted by: jinjo at May 20, 2008 3:46 PM

My Dad was mostly absent during my childhood. I hated him for it, but the time we did spend together always seemed positive. He is a lovable guy and fun to be around.

At 17, I decided to finally ask him about the divorce and his decision to not be in my life. Regardless of circumstance, he had made a choice in my mind. He blamed my mother for cheating on him, never exploring her true motivations. He claimed, however, that he always felt my Mom would do a better job raising us without him in our lives.

There were earlier moments of human weakness. But this triggered a new point of view for me. It created a new lens through which I viewed all of my Dad's actions. He is the weakest, most selfish, most insecure man I have ever come to know. His family blames the parenting; his Mom destroys lives. I just see a failed man.

Posted by: J at May 20, 2008 3:48 PM

When I was 6 my father was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma. He had to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. I remember hair falling out onto pillows and him coming home one day bald. My 6 year old mind didn't have the vocabulary to grasp the gravity of the situation, but those images burned into my subconscious. I remember his attempts to make it humorous. I remember being scared but not knowing why. I remember the depression it triggered in him. Thankfully, he beat it.

Then I remember when I was 16 and he had a major bout with severe clinical depression. He has been battling it his whole life, but that really got him. I remember him sitting in the dark on an easy chair just crying. Alone. And I remember trying to cheer him up. Trying to tell him how much he's loved. Trying to make him smile. Then I remember going to see him in in-patient care. Watching sadly as our visiting sessions ended and he would look tearfully at us. But he checked himself in. And, thankfully, he beat it.

He had a hard childhood. Was raised by foster parents who always made him feel like he was on shaky ground. Was a manipulated child of a domineering foster mother who played on his insecurities.

No matter what has happened between him and me I always remember that he's just a guy trying to do his best. We have our ups and downs, but he's a good person and a reminder that that scared little boy never really goes away. It's always in you somewhere.

Posted by: Tom at May 20, 2008 4:06 PM

I was probably about 14 and my family was struggling financially. We relied on my dad as the sole breadwinner of the family. He ran a store in a ghetto neighborhood of Brooklyn. The police called my dad late at night when my mother was away. He drove to his store in Brooklyn with my sister and me. Two policemen were inside his store and told him that junkies broke into his store. My dad frantically looked under the counter for a cardboard candybox holder that was held together with rubberbands. He had stashed all the week's money into the cardboard candy box and the junkies had taken all the cash in the box. It was the first time I saw my dad cry.

Posted by: Susie at May 20, 2008 4:09 PM

I'm not sure when it started (maybe 8th grade), but my Dad started saying "I want to be like you when I grow up." It struck me far more profoundly than he realized.

Posted by: Ryan at May 20, 2008 4:17 PM

My Mom had gotten sick several times when I was little (A stroke, many heart attacks (One of which resulted in a quintuple bypass)), but for some reason even when she was weaker than a kitten while she was recovering, I always saw her as strong. I felt the same way when she was torn up over my grandmother's death.

It wasn't until I was 20 (and twice more when I was 21) when she had a short but intense stint as an alcoholic that I saw her as anything but a strong parent figure. That pretty much literally switched the parent/child role for us. I remember the most intense time, and the weakest I had ever seen her, was on her first relapse when she drank until she passed out and my brother* and I had to carry her downstairs to my car to take her to the hospital. While the whole experience was hands down the worst and most frightening of my life, it has made me appreciate my mother even more once she got sober. I had always had a good relationship with her, but it wasn't until I lost her (She was a completely different person when she drank) and got her back that I realized what a smart, wonderful, and funny a person she was. I am grateful for every moment I have with her now.

It's a little ironic, at first I saw her as a sort of utterly infallible mom person, then as a completely infantalized grown up in my Mom's body, then finally a real, honest-to-god adult whom I could identify with on a more mature level. While it was absolutely awful which it was happening, I'm happy about how much it has strengthened my relationship with my Mom and my brother.

* Not my brother by blood, but he has always been there to support my family and I, so he is waaaay more than my best friend. Hell, he has done more for my family than almost any other member of my family.

Posted by: Robert at May 20, 2008 4:25 PM

There was an incident with my Mom regarding a that had been given to her by Dad before they'd divorced; a ring which I'd pilfered in 6th grade, misplaced, received idle death threats from my Mom about, and luckily recovered.

The value in the ring being not so much monetary as it was in guilt, Mom told me the story a few years later: The year before they'd divorced (things were not going so well anyway), Dad was doing renovations on the house, and we were not terribly well-off. So, for Christmas, Dad had a ruby set in this ring. Mom had gotten him a toilet. Needless to say, her face was pretty red on Christmas Day.

She cried when she told me this story. She seemed to think that it was one of the final straws in the relationship, though I personally think that it was her way of being practical but not thinking too hard about what she was doing, since she was rather upset with him at the time.

Since then, I've noticed that it's one of her quirks to do such odd things. I don't think Mom would be half as interesting if she didn't have those frailties about her.


Posted by: Sarah at May 20, 2008 4:29 PM

When I saw my mom giving birth to me

Posted by: Noah at May 20, 2008 4:30 PM

I was 13 or so, and running late for the new school I had been going to for a few weeks. My mom was driving me, and I was giving her directions, and I gave her a bad turn. She started crying, in a way that I hadn't seen before, a complete break and release from her normal demeanor. I was so confused, and wanted to say something to make it right, but I couldn't.

Posted by: APR at May 20, 2008 4:35 PM

For my dad: I remember I was around 4 years old. My mom and dad were in the kitchen talking. My dad had packed some bags, so I assumed he was going on a trip. In my childlike innocence, I went the kitchen and asked my father where he was going. He just covered his face and started sobbing. I didn't understand at all what was going on. Obviously, my parents were getting a divorce, and it hurt him so much to leave us.

For my mom: I've come to realize all of this later in life. After my parents divorced, my mom was a mess. My sister and I lived with her, but we might as well not have. She tried her best to take care of us, and she did well for awhile. The problem was is that she was scared to death of being alone, so she latched on to the first guy that would marry her. He turned out to be a horrible man often leaving bruises on us for ridiculously reasons like wearing socks in the house. The worst happened when he ended up sexually abusing my sister. However, my mom called my sister a liar and turned everyone against her. I knew my sister was telling the truth and was mortified because I knew that so easily could have been me. We ended up moving in with my dad and having no contact with my stepdad until we were 18. My mom was even more of a mess. She didn't want to be alone, so she rejected her children for a husband. I still go see my mom, and I've forgiven her for the most part. She is still married to my stepdad, and I still can't stand it. It's weird that after everything my mom did, I still love her. I really feel bad for her because of this life that she chose, and the life she could've had if she was stronger.

Posted by: britdawg at May 20, 2008 4:53 PM

"mom?"
"yup?"
"can i ask you something?"
"something serious"
***mom sits down at the table with me*
"ok"
"mom"
"yeah"
"there's no santa is there"
...

...

"no."

parents lie. first time i knew for sure.

Posted by: mark at May 20, 2008 5:10 PM

With my mom, it was when I 'won' an argument concerning language usage, swearing, and moves into the vernacular, and she pouted.

With my dad, it was right after I realized the implications of this little statement: "I can't listen to Billie Holiday; I can hear the way the heroin ruined her voice, and it makes me cry."

I think these both happened when I was about 19.

I've never thought of my parents as weak. I don't believe I've ever thought of anyone as weak. Flawed, yes, but I am as well.

Posted by: K at May 20, 2008 5:26 PM

It was 1983 and I was 6 and my family took my brother (then diagnosed with Crohn's) to see Father DiOrio.. they were told he heals the sick.
Father DiOrio came our way, stopped, pointed to my brother, said something which I don't remember, and my brother passed out and fell down a flight of stairs. My father screamed that his boy was dead, and that he killed him. The priest touched my Dad and said "He's fine." My father collapsed right there and cried his heart out. I have never been so shaken in all my life. I have never known my father to just fall apart. But I never understood why. Was it the healing? Was it my brother falling?
2 years ago, I asked my Mom (Dad passed away 2000) and she said that my brother woke up and looked at Daddy and said, "I'm not afraid to die anymore. It's ok. It's ok."
Andre passed away a few months later. He was 15.

Posted by: Suzanne at May 20, 2008 5:40 PM

I have 2 older sisters, both of them paved the way for me with my parents, and I got special treatment as the only boy in the family.

One evening, at the dinner table, my dad got pissed about something. I think I was in the 7th or 8th grade. He started his angry tirade with the words, "Take heed!" but none of us remembers whatever else he said. From that moment on, my sisters clowned him on the "Take heed!" remark. It became legend. Dad was punked by a couple of girls, 14 and 10 years old. I still have enormous respect for the man, he has always had a sense of humor, and even when angry, has always been someone I don't fear. He commands more attention by being kind, and is hard to take seriously when angry, although you get the point.

My mom spanked us a lot. About the time I was 11 or 12, she was going to deliver one to me, but I just went into my room and closed the door. She demanded that I come out, and I told her, "No." We came up with alternatives. Another time, she asked me if I'd like a good hard smack? I said, "Sure, mom, that sounds great." She lost it. Lastly, one night returning from a get-together with friends, I got so pissed off at my mom for walking away from me (I had the upper hand in the argument, and she just walked out on me) - I told her to "Get your ass back in here." The next day, she said she was wrong, and that we weren't going to hear me say that again...

I have great parents. Don't do the things they do, don't believe the things they believe, and admittedly make my own mistakes with my own children. I can only hope to be half as great as they were with me.

Posted by: Chuffy at May 20, 2008 5:58 PM

I'm 20.

A few years ago, but it really hit home when I outlasted my mother in an argument and her anxiety got out of control.

My father? Well, he watches wrestling, which is one of the dumbest things known to man.

Posted by: Katharine at May 20, 2008 5:59 PM

I was 9: My mother moved to the east coast 2 months ahead of us to start a new job. I didn't notice until she came back right before the move.

I was 25: My father attempted suicide.

Posted by: Jojo at May 20, 2008 6:00 PM

Often when I was growing up my Dad and I would get into playfights. I'd grab hold of him and he'd wrestle me to the ground and hold me there while I tried to wriggle free. Me challenging him I suppose, but he would refuse to 'let' me win, telling my mum "he needs to learn that the world doesn't let you win, you have to fight for it". It would always end with me, exhausted, giving up.

When I was about 14 I got into a playfight with him, and he held me down as had happened many times before, but this time was different. I sensed that if I pushed hard enough I could escape.

I realised many things right there and then.

I felt pride as I realised that I was growing up, and that I could beat him. I also realised with sadness that my father would get weaker as he got older and that I would one day be far stronger than him, maybe having to care for him.

I never challenged him to a playfight again. It's something that was never spoken about between us, but we both understood that I respected him too much to prove that I could beat him.

Posted by: Mortphilio at May 20, 2008 6:02 PM

When I was about 5, my mom wanted me to go shopping with her. I said I didn't want to. I don't know why it made her so upset (I probably said something mean as 5 year olds can do) but she started crying. My dad came to me and asked if I understood how sad I had made my mom. He told me how happy my mom was when I was born a girl. I realized then that my mom was just a person and so was I. That we were the same at a core level. It was a big moment for my psyche.

Posted by: Kate at May 20, 2008 6:30 PM

There was no drama. No death, no alcohol, no serious injuries.

I was five, maybe six, and my dad performed a magic trick. He had a small plastic figurine in his hand (a little pink piggy, I think), and he waved his hand, and Oh! The figurine suddenly was at the other end of the room, sitting on top of the door frame.
(I still don't know how he had done it.)

I was happy. I was amazed. My dad was a wizard!

A year or so later, I asked him to perform the trick again.
And he looked at me and said, very casually (at least that's the way I remember it): "What do you mean, a magic trick? There is no magic. Sorry; I cannot do that."

It was not malevolent. He just didn't seem to remember his earlier trick. And he also didn't seem to realize the impact of his words.

Inside of me, something broke.
My father was no Wizard.
There were no Wizards at all.
Everyone was just like me. Fragile, afraid, incomplete.

I spent the next thirty years reading and watching Science-Fiction and Fantasy.

Posted by: David W. at May 20, 2008 7:07 PM

When I was 6 or 7 I remember a 'friend' at school telling someone that my dad didn't have a job and lived with my grandparents, and I realized from the way she said it, with a kind of vicious satisfaction straight from her mother, that I was supposed to be ashamed of him. My parents were separated, and every day I spent with my dad I was the centre of the world.
When I was 8 I saw him asleep with a empty bottle on the couch and I started crying hysterically. I don't think I even consciously understood why.
I've never seen my father drink. I saw him drunk for the first time in my life 5 months ago. I'm 22.

Man, this is like therapy. I think I'm gonna go join an alanon group now or something.

Posted by: judy at May 20, 2008 7:09 PM

My parents divorced when I was 7 and my dad remarried a couple of years later to a woman with one son and one daugther. The daughter was awesome, but the son... well, he's spent much of his adult life in jail, so you get the picture there.

Despite the fact that this kid was nothing but trouble and Dad knew it, he would insist that, since he was my "big brother" (UGH!) I should listen to him.

When I was 10 or 11 nd visitng Dad and the new family for the weekend, my "big brother" suggested we go and decorate his new clubhouse, which happened to just be a fenced off area in the backyard where they usually stored the garbarge until garbage day., He had found a can of white paint and started painting the fence as well as a lamp he found. I asked him if he was allowed to be doing this and he said, "Of course! It's not like anyone will see it." So, I started painting.

At one point, a single, small drop of paint fell on the cheap-o shoes ($7 in 1985 - c'mon) my Dad had bought for me that morning. When we went back inside the house, my stepmom asked us what we had been doing and I told her, "Painting the clubhouse." My step brother looked at me like I had just ratted him out and, after some minor arguing, she sent him to his room, more irritated at him than mad. I asked if I should go too, but she said, "No, you didn't know he was lying about being allowed to do that." Dad was in the room for this whole thing.

As I apologized, Dad looked down at my shoes and saw the tiny white spot. "DID YOU GET PAINT ON YOUR BRAND NEW SHOES?!?" he yelled. I hadn't actually noticed it until just that second and apologized. He then did something he had never done before and has never done since - he slapped me HARD across the face and yelled at me to go to my room (which I shared with my step brother on the weekends).

After the shock and pain of being hit went away, my tears turned into a burning anger. I could hear my step mother yelling at my Dad about what he had done and how totally off base he was. My step brother just looked at me in pity and awe. Dad came into the room a few minutes later, knelt down next to me and apologized - genuinely apologized - for losing it. I think he may also have been crying. I was not letting him have my forgiveness. I said "whatever" and asked him to leave. When Dad left, my step brother tried to say something to me, something remotely comforting or apologetic, but I said something to him I had never said before, I think, to anyone - "Fuck you."

I knew adults were capable of making mistakes and all that, but I never really saw my Dad in a largely negative light until that time. I determined from that point forward that I was clearly smarter than him 'cause at 11 years old I at least could see a situation for what it was and not fly off the handle like he had. I spent a number of years putting him down rather aggressively behind his back, while being pretty distant to him in person. It happened 22 years ago or so, but that may actually be the point when our relationship turned permanently.

I still love my Dad, and we still talk, though he's down in SoCal and I'm in the Bay Area, but there's still that personal distance between us. Even retelling the story, I get more than a little angry at him and well up a little with bitter tears.

Posted by: Rob Z. at May 20, 2008 7:23 PM

I saw my parents sleeping one night, and it just hit me, maybe I was 14. There they were, as fragile as me.

Posted by: Anna at May 20, 2008 7:48 PM

I spent my whole childhood terrified of my mother. She wasn't human to me. She was some kind of all-powerful force. There's no point in going into details. The woman just filled me with fear that, to this day, nothing has matched. It wasn't until I was about 18 that it all started to make sense. I did something completely innocent, she turned into a monster, and I thought, "She's scared. That's what this is about. That's what it's been about all this time. I'm not stupid. I'm not a bitch. I'm not a whore. I don't MAKE her do these things to me. She's just scared I'm going to leave her alone, and she'll do and say anything to keep me from being independent." I moved to the other side of the country less than a year later. My mother isn't a healthy person to be around. But I don't hate her, and I'm not afraid of her anymore. I just wish I could help her.

Posted by: Katy at May 20, 2008 7:53 PM

After reading some of the above, this is small:

I've always been a music kid/person from an early age. I was very young and that was when the American variety shows were on and they would have on real music. Janis Joplin was on some show (Mike Douglas or something) and my father was livid - "That's trash", "She's horrible",etc. I couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 and I just sat there and thought too myself - "He's Wrong - this is GREAT!!" Music has taught me everything - anti-racism, books to read, reject religion, know your parents are people just like you, think for yourself......

My Mom - '68 & 8 yrs old - she would wake up in the morning, drink coffee and watch the news while we sat in front of her chair w/ the dog. Every morning early. The tv was on and she heard Bobby Kennedy was shot. She cried sooo hard - my younger brother & I were trying to console her - I will never ever forget that as long as I live.

Posted by: rudeoff at May 20, 2008 7:54 PM

I remember how astonished and pleased I was the first time I realised that there were things I knew that my parents did not. I had learned the Irish word for ‘sink’ (‘doirteal’) in school at age five, and through whatever course of conversation it arose during dinner that evening that neither of my parents knew that particular word.

That was my first time being made aware of my parents' lack of omniscience. It pretty much kept going like that from then on… ;)

Posted by: Rory Parle at May 20, 2008 7:59 PM

I was 5 or 6 years old, sitting on my mom's bed. She was getting ready to go somewhere. I was watching her in the big dresser mirror she dressed in front of, I remember the tiny little hole in the mirror, the size of a bb where something had hit it, but just made the puncture, not ruining the rest of the large mirror.

I distinctly remember this awareness washing over me, and finally saying, "Mom?"

"Yeah?" she responded

"What's your REAL name?"

I'm sure I knew it before then, but I remember the feeling of her just being another person to everyone else. She was only "Mom" to me.

Her name's Bonnie, by the way. And that was 30 years ago. I consider myself one of the luckiest dudes I know.

Posted by: Doug at May 20, 2008 8:14 PM

For my father: My father has battled clinical depression for my entire life, an affliction which I share. I remember one day he had been instructed to do the dishes by my mother. She had a higher earning job so they decided that my father would stay home with me, and then my sister when she was born, a decision which he now claims to resent. I came in from unsupervised play in the backyard to find my father asleep on the couch, NPR on the radio, the brass arrangement of the theme song to "All Things Considered" droning in the backround, and the kitchen sink, which he had started to fill for the dishes when I left the kitchen, an hour earlier, overflowing into the other sink. I looked at him and realized that this authoritarian figure that terrified me so was only a vulnerable man and that "there was something wrong with my Daddy."

For my mother: In high school my parents' marital difficulties, which were a constant theme, came to the forefront. My mother began to confide in me, and it was that moment that I realized that she had no other confidant. For all my mother's strength she found it just as difficult as I did to make close friends and keep them.

Posted by: bajonista at May 20, 2008 9:13 PM

Maybe I should come back to this one... when I might have a lighter moment to share.

As it stands now, I'm thinking about my family's macabre sense of humor. We laugh in the face of death all the time, but the first time it happened, I knew it was because we were afraid.

After a few days of chemo, my mother and I were preparing for the day in the bathroom. Her hair started falling out. We took the opportunity to act out scenerios where she might want to "pull her hair out."

We laughed and laughed and even joked about it later. However, it also was the moment I really and truly realized just how vulnerable and human my mom was.

Posted by: deb at May 20, 2008 9:18 PM

I was about 4 and 16, respectively. Sorry 'bout that.

Posted by: bajonista at May 20, 2008 9:18 PM

By the time all of his daughters were technically women, my father was the sole male in a house where four females cycled in tandem and pms was important enough to mark on the calendar.

Button pushing and downright brawls weren't uncommon; however after a particularly harrowing day at work he came home to a nest of vipers snapping at each other. Normally extremely careful with his language, we never spoke a word of profanity around him. But we didn't see him until after one of screamed "You are a fucking bitch!" and punctuated it with a badly aimed throw of a drinking glass.

As the glass rolled to his feet he kicked it and ordered us to gather round. He wasn't sure how to begin the lecture and we could see him faltering for words. Finally, he pounded the table with his fist and yelled, "There are no fucking bitches in this house!"

After two beats we didn't need to look at each other to understand. All three of us broke out in mad giggles at his first (and only within our earshot) use of those words. It was at once a relief of the tension and an opportunity to forgive.

He was so embarrassed. I believe a joke on our part had to be made and logic being the best kind of funny to him, someone said, "Pretty sure your off by a factor of four there, Dad." And then he laughed with us and apologized claiming the men at work used the language all the time and he just slipped.

I cannot believe it ended that way. We so skated on that one.

Posted by: boo at May 20, 2008 9:25 PM

I was in my early teens. My father came home from work and told my mother that he got fired from his job. It was the only time I ever saw him cry. Even thinking about it now, I get that same "butterflies" feeling. It was a very uncomfortable moment.

Posted by: Dave at May 20, 2008 10:06 PM

When I was eight, my dad and I went to visit my grandparents . They had a huge argument about something inconsequentical, and I got caught in the middle. But I realized then that my father was a weak man, a man who could not think beyond and resolve his own issues with his parents. I understood then that I was better and stronger than him.

Posted by: richard at May 20, 2008 10:15 PM

I was about 5. I found a pair of rain boots just my size in a paper sack in my mom's closet (yes, I was a nosy kid). They were the black rubber kind, unlined, with red soles and a red band at the top. The kind that came from Swain's Sporting Goods in Port Angeles. A couple weeks later, these same boots showed up under the Christmas tree "from Santa." I found out then that Santa was just my mom, and my mom was just a person who bought rubber boots at Swains.

Posted by: Jen at May 20, 2008 10:18 PM

My parents weren't real winners to begin with, but it was during their divorce when I was ten when I felt like they had really failed me.

They both tried to use me against each other, and I saw it for exactly what it was, selfishness.

Posted by: Trimpot at May 20, 2008 10:22 PM

I suppose it was when my mother and new step-father called me from the vet saying my puppy had been put down due to distemper. I was seven.

They hadn't gone to the vet to get it's shots, so when it got sick...

Posted by: reechard at May 20, 2008 10:22 PM

It's actually one of my first memories, probably because the circumstance was unusual to a 3-year old. But my mother, a young woman of 25 at the time, was standing at the ironing board, nearly catatonic, with tears streaming down her face while staring at the TV. President Kennedy had been shot.

Posted by: Lisa R. at May 20, 2008 10:31 PM

When I was in college I screwed up. I flunked out, I stole from my parents, I lied about what was going on, I did everything wrong.

At one point toward the end of the whole fiasco, I was at home and had an argument with my mother, at the end of which she threw up her hands and said "As far as I'm concerned you can't do anything right."

I immediately shut down, shook my head, gave her an icy look, and walked out of the room. Hours later I walked into the laundry room and found my mother sitting on the floor crying.

And I walked out of the room again.

It took days for us to make up. We're the best of friends now, and I've fixed my life, but I always wish I'd forgiven her right there instead of prolonging the misery for both of us.

Posted by: kostia at May 20, 2008 10:41 PM

When I realized my dad was in the closet. He still is. I don't think anyone really knows but me. Browser histories tell you all sorts of tings.

There were many moments of humanity/recognition before then, but that was the biggest revelation. All those years pretending, it made me sadder for him than ever before.

Posted by: d at May 20, 2008 10:48 PM

Seeing my stepdad taken away from our home in handcuffs, when I was 17.

Posted by: chuck at May 20, 2008 10:49 PM

Like many of the posts above, I’ve had some tough times in my childhood. I spent a lot of time, since as far back as I can remember, being angry with my parents for being irresponsible, for being weird, for not being financially successful, for not pushing me harder, for having problems, for making me feel like I had to be the grown-up in the family. I hated them for being failures, for not being good enough.

A while ago, I drove my dad to his estranged father’s hospital bedside, his dying estranged father. It was a bit of a road trip, and the situation inspired the kind of honesty that a lets-go-see-a-dying-person road trip often does. Over a late dinner in the nearly empty Boston Pizza in Medicine Hat, my dad and I were talking about my latest tattoo. Without thinking of what I was saying, I described the inspiration behind it. I told him how I had finally come to realize that *even though I had always felt like I had to look after myself*, in fact I have great friends and family I can always count on. I only heard what I was saying half way through, too late to change the words. Looking up at his face after this spilled out was heart wrenching. I had never as an adult confessed how disappointed I had been in them as parents. His eyes were downcast, the lines on his face were more visible than I remember ever seeing them. He looked so tired. That’s when it slammed home: he knew, they knew. Every disappointment, every irresponsible action, every less than perfect parental performance, they had been as keenly aware of as I was.

I realized then, I was only ever angry with my parent’s because I thought they shouldn’t be human. That was the moment, over pizza and dying family, I discovered my parents really are just regular people, and they screw up, just like everyone else.

That particular moment was terribly uncomfortable. Everything after though, has been amazing. I was twenty six.

Posted by: Kris at May 20, 2008 10:50 PM

All of the weakness my father has ever shown has been related to his pickup-trucks through the years. the time his 2nd truck died in the parking lot of my daycare at age 6, he cried. when he locked his keys in the next one and had to break into his own truck with a coat-hanger a few months later and then just last fall, just before I turned 18 when I stole his truck and sideswiped it with a telephone pole.

Posted by: Crystal at May 20, 2008 11:05 PM

Mom have always seemed ultra-human to me, but dad has always hided his emotions so well that I 've only noticed most of early early signs of humanity when I was 27 and going regularly to a psychologist.

My parents are divorced since I was 2 and since then I used to alternate the weekends I spent with mom or dad. We had no major issues until I was 13 and didn't want to go to dad's place that weekend - oh, c'mon, I wanted to be a little anti-social, stay home, read a book and hanging out with my friends at evening - instead of visiting grandma and my hysterical five aunties who still live with her.

I called him to say that I wouldn't go there, which probably had made him very disappointed, cause he told me something like "it's a shame, your baby sister will miss you a lot".

"Dad, she's only 1 year old. Why don't you admit YOU'RE the one who'll miss me?"

The next thing I remember was that we spent a couple of months without talking to each other - too proud to grab a phone, both of us - until my mom and my stepmother put us toghether again, but things were never the same...

...that was a) when I noticed he was human and b) when I noticed I was just like him.

Posted by: leah at May 20, 2008 11:16 PM

We were at the pizza parlor with the extended family. All of us kids were seated at one big round table, the adults at the other. My dad came over to tell us kids not to spill any of our soda, or else. Just as he finished, his hand bumped a glass of soda on the table, dousing us all. "Like that," he said.

Posted by: califmom at May 20, 2008 11:35 PM

When I was 8 or so, and I finally started realizing the alcoholically abusive side of my father (though I didn't know he was an alcoholic until much later), I was being yelled at for not cleaning the bathroom fast enough. He would make me keep eye contact the entire time he yelled at me, and then he asked me why I wasn't saying anything. When I told him it was because I was afraid of him, he started to cry, and sent me away. It's one of only two times I've ever seen him cry, the other being at the funeral of my Nana (his mother).

For my mom, I never really viewed her as vulnerable or human until high school. I'd been diagnosed with chronic depression, and had been having a really rough time, and right around then it came to light that my grandfather had been sexually abusing me my whole childhood. One night around 11pm she came to my room sobbing and telling me she was going to kill herself. It's the most scared I've ever been.

Posted by: Sariko at May 20, 2008 11:36 PM

I was 16. (See above.)

Posted by: deb at May 20, 2008 11:44 PM

I was 4. We were out late 'just driving around' and in our small town, got pulled over, just to make sure everything was okay. The officer shined his light in my mom's purse so she could get out her license, and I had a mini panic attack thinking he would see the huge bottle of speed and pound of pot that she hadn't yet taken out to separate and weigh for sale. It was all I knew, but at that moment I knew it was something that shouldn't be.

Posted by: Steph at May 20, 2008 11:45 PM

My father was killed in a car accident as he was driving me back to school for my final semester of college. I'm not sure that I had ever really considered his immortality before waking in the destroyed car and seeing him dead next to me. I was 21 at the time and had blindly and without rational thought assumed that he would always be involved in my life. I'm 26 now, and still struggling with his loss.

Posted by: Leah at May 20, 2008 11:50 PM

Well, I have fantastic parents, they're responsible for me being the awesome person I am today. My mom watched Star Trek: TNG every day with us, and I got to play D&D when I was young. (When you're a kid, it's like being in a fairy tale, and you can do ANYTHING.) They're both really open-minded, and supported anything I tried, regardless of how idiotic it may have seemed/been. I really don't have a moment where either of them really snapped, or the like.

The closest thing I have was when I was fifth grade. (I'm 20 now, for reference.) My test scores were great, but I never turned in homework, so I wasn't doing that well overall. (I wasn't very organized, what can I say?) So my dad instructed me to get my agenda signed by my teachers every day to ensure I remembered to write down my homework assignment for the day, and that I handed in yesterdays.

I remember it was Valentine's day, because I had a small horde of candy. Anyway, dad checked my agenda, and started yelling (my dad has never hit me out of anger, and seldom curses, but when he yells, it's INTIMIDATING. Still is.) because I failed to write anything down for the entire week. So, at the end of a good 3 minute tirade, (and at this point I'm sobbing my eyes out.) he realized he was looking at NEXT WEEKS agenda. Remember in "A Christmas Story", when Ralphie imagines getting soap poisoning? It was like that.

And that was when I figured out that my parents didn't know everything. Just most things.

Posted by: Blank-Mage at May 21, 2008 12:03 AM

Never.

I saw my father in ICU when I was 17, and in coma, he still looked like Superman. A few minutes later, the nurses signalled something and I turned to look at my mum, and I saw her eyes wet, but at that moment I believed I saw the essence of her strength. Cliched as it is, there's no denial that what I saw was love.

Now at 35, my 70 years old mum is still the strongest woman I know.

Posted by: RazN at May 21, 2008 12:25 AM

My mother has always been a very steady person to my sister--three years my senior--and I, and my first glimpses of her as a human were when I was 9 or 10. One night my sister and I somehow made my mom so mad that she just left the house with a slam of the front door and drove off without telling us where she was going or when she would be back. An outburst like that from my mom was totally unprecedented. She was gone for maybe half an hour, and of course my sister was perfectly capable of taking care of me, but I was completely terrified. Around the same time I have a memory of riding in the car and being scared because my mom, ordinarily a very safe and methodical driver, was angry and taking turns much faster than usual. I don't think we were in any actual danger, but at the time it was very frightening. Those were the beginnings of my realizations that there are some emotions that even my steady-as-a-rock mother doesn't know how to handle.

When I was 11 or so, I walked in on my mom and her boyfriend having sex on her bedroom floor. In my memory it was a weird mess of naked, sweaty bodies--I can't even remember any of their features except their faces (thank goodness, I suppose). It took me only a split second to figure out that I had walked in on something I wasn't supposed to be seeing, and I backed out of the room quickly and sat back down in front of the TV. When my mom came out a few minutes later and said "Jordan, about what you saw," I cut her off and lied, "I didn't see anything." I've never been a good liar--I don't think I even looked her in the eye--but she said okay and that was that. I eventually realized that by lying I had given her a way out of having "that" conversation, and that it was possible for adults to feel just as awkward about things like that as kids.

Finally, when I was 13 or 14 I discovered some pornographic videotapes on the top shelf in my dad's closet and pored over them thoroughly. Around the same time I got the internet and pored over that as well. One day my dad came home and, through a clumsy slip of the mouse on my part, discovered my best friend and I looking at some naughty pictures on Usenet. My friend got sent home and I got a long lecture (along with many awkward questions like, "Are there pictures of... people screwing?"--that was the word he used) that concluded with my father denouncing pornography as exploitation of women and so on. And all throughout this lecture I couldn't stop thinking about the very graphic videos my dad kept on his top shelf. It was the first time I had seen hypocrisy in my dad.

Posted by: Jordan at May 21, 2008 1:02 AM

For me the human thing was not an issue. My parents were all storm and fury followed by showers of tears. Given the nature of their relationship they were all to human. But they were still parents. I think that the transformation moment for me was when I saw them as individuals.

When I think about it, I realize that this happened when I travelled with both of them to their childhood homes in Europe. (Two separate trips.) For my mom, a small village in Hungary, for my Dad, the house that they fled to from Poland during the 2nd world war. In those places, they were ... other. I think that they were those kids again. Vulnerable and weirdly joyous I guess remembering childhood.

I remember seeing emotions play out over my dad's face that I had never seen before. He wasn't even speaking. As for my mom, seeing her teased by her relatives and blush and get awkward... she lost her edginess. And we really talked.

I'm not explaining this very well... but it was about seeing them as that boy and that girl. Not my mom and dad.

Posted by: ingrid at May 21, 2008 2:15 AM

I remember having this sort of "moment" with a (long since ex-) GF. We were half-sitting in bed, I had my head on her chest. I started listening to her heartbeat. Then, suddenly, I was hit with an epiphany: Here is this real, living, human being - frail of body, yet strong of spirit - and she has chosen to love me.

It is hard to describe in words, but, it was the same sort of intense emotion for humans that you see Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant try (and fail) to act out in Dr Who.


Realising my parents are fallible humans, on the other hand, hasn't been a "moment". It was (and, to an extent, still is) a slow realisation over a number of years. But it has been uncomfortable.

My parents only want "what's best for me" (hardly unusual). But they are very successful at their careers, to the point that they think that doing anything else is a guaranteed path to failure.

I have tried to do things "their way" - to follow in their footsteps. And every time I have "hit a wall". Becoming emotionally and even physically ill.

And so, over time, I have been forced to find other, more positive people, to look up to (like Ze Frank :). And at the same time, I have come to realise that my parent's advice is no more "special" or better than any other human being.

Posted by: AR at May 21, 2008 2:44 AM

re. age: dad: 25; mom: 27

Posted by: ingrid at May 21, 2008 2:44 AM

I was about 7, and making a project for school or Cub Scouts or something. I was making a plane out of thread spools and twine and random part of things, and Mom was trying to help me. I got bitchy about her "help" and said something (bratty, I'm sure). Either she pushed too hard about helping or I pushed back too hard about not wanting any help, but she got really angry with me. I was angry, too--it was MY project, why is she so bent out of shape? I thought. I don't think it was weakness on her part, but it's the time when I started to be wary of her responses to my actions, which I guess made her human in my eyes.

With my dad it happened much later. I was in high school. Dad had quit a job he didn't like a took a chance with a private business. The private business sputtered along for a few years but didn't pan out, and he reluctantly went back to his old job, which he hated. Then, maybe six months later, he changed his job AGAIN. That in itself is not bad, but my father is very aloof and shy, and rarely if ever talks about himself or what he feels/thinks. So one night he says "I'm going to start a new job at ***", my brother and I just nodded our heads, with nothing to say. We already knew he was changing jobs from Mom. It was just an awkward and embarrassing moment for everyone. I wanted to say something profound and/or funny, and I think Dad did, too, but nobody said anything.

Posted by: dielederhosen at May 21, 2008 3:20 AM

My dad's hypocrisy, jealousy and anger I've long seen as a weakness. That he lacks the ability to hear a word of reasoning; his need to be one up on everyone and always needing to be right.

The time he called me "stupid" repeatedly over something at about age 8 while at ellis island, and I burst into tears.. is particularly memorable.

I remember being hurt not so much by the put down, but by the fact that I knew it wasn't true. I knew I was good at school, I read alot and I remember the resentful indignation that came with the knowledge that the accusation was unmerited. I knew then that he was saying it because being more powerful, being the adult, and my being too young, too small to fight back with words or reason made him feel better about himself

I'm 20 now, and he still has the same effect on me. I still burst into tears after his condemnation of my slipups, constant critisism.

The sad thing is, all I really want to do is make him proud. but the harder I try, the more he feels threatened by my "surpassing" him.. in something. and puts me down all the more.

Its a weakness that makes me lose respect for him, doubt my own achievements.

On occasions he feels guilty, apologising and blaming his actions on the way his parents treated him.

The hypocrisy and continuing of the cycle is at times unbearable. And I hope to be the one to break it.

Posted by: me at May 21, 2008 5:04 AM

I realised my parents were human when they decided to separate, I was 12. I had never seen a fight or a cross word, and they'd always seemed so affectionate and loving so I was completely stunned, having always thought this was something Iw ouldn't have to worry about.

Almost immediately our relationship changed, they became honest about their relationship, their life expectations, their regrets (including my conception), and their feelings; often brutally so.

So, I became the parent to my younger brother, knowing as an 8 year old he was too young to have his parents' perfection taken from him. We've been lucky to have a great, close relationship since then.
The most scary part now is, he knows that I'm only human.

Posted by: emily at May 21, 2008 6:44 AM

I don't really remember what age but I remember my mother couldn't answer a question and she "always" knew the answer to everything, according to my little kid mind.

Posted by: govtdrone at May 21, 2008 7:37 AM

I was 16, and my older cousin had just died (he was 18). At the funeral, they didn't have any one person give a eulogy, but anyone that wanted to say something could, so my dad got up to make a speech or whatever. He told of how he's allergic to cats and hates them, and one day when my dad was visiting their family up in Pennsylvania, James (my cousin) was very little and he crawled up onto the couch upon which my dad was lying, made a little circle around him and finally settled down upon his chest, and curled up like a cat. At this point, he pronounced that he had finally found a cat he wasn't allergic to. I don't really remember the very end of the story much, or when it was, but somewhere toward the end of the story I remember his voice cracking, as though he was going to cry, and my dad never, ever cries. He is a rock- the exact opposite of what I am, unfortunately- and that rock had broken. It was at that moment that I just became so scared and so aware of his humanity and of everyone's, and it was one of the most haunting moments of my life.

Posted by: Emmy at May 21, 2008 9:45 AM

The first time I saw my mother as a human being was probably when, after her separation from my stepfather, she had her new lover over to our house late at night. She was still married at the time, but having intimate relations with a man who was not her husband. I was floored. This is supposed to be my moral compass?!??

Let's not even talk about the fact that I then had to block my ears from absorbing what was happening in her room that evening. Drunken roommate on spring break in the other bed of the hotel room while I'm sleeping? Fine. Hearing my mom's womanly sounds? NOT OK.

For my father, it's been a slow and continual process. He and my mother divorced when I was two. And although as a child I would visit with him every other weekend, by junior high this became once a month, by high school once every few months, and by college, almost never. I take some responsibility for this given my fluctuating loyalties and fractured attention span, but he never really made an effort to see me either.

But anyway, basically one day I had the realization that I could go on blaming my father for my fucked up perspective on male-female relationships and continual failure at such, or I could just see him for what he is, someone who wasn't ready to be a father, and then own up to my own future behavior. You aren't magically endowed with this desire just because you've had a child. He himself was the baby of his family, with two older siblings, and with a somewhat emotionally abusive father of his own, he was never equipped to be my pillar of support.

So I forgave him. In my own silent way. We never discussed things (though I once made an attempt — we won't get started on my stepmonster's efforts to thwart my relationship with my father. Ahem.) But anyway, now we're OK, me and my dad. Our frequency of contact is still sparse, but at least we have something. I figure, sure, I can pissed off and whine that my life and relationships aren't perfect, or I can be thankful for what I have and make things as good as they can be.

One of my favorite quotes — and I'm devolving a bit here, apologies, but I think the quote is applicable, given how many of us are discussing our parents or own own shortcomings — said of Marilyn Monroe, " she played the best game with the worst hand dealt."

Granted, she was a celebrity, but still, a human. I guess what I take away from that is this piece of advice I often give my friends when they are having a particularly bad case of the "poor-me"s: You can let your past define how you got where you are, but cannot allow it dictate where you are going.

Great idea for a sharing piece, Ze. And cheaper than therapy!

Posted by: beenit at May 21, 2008 10:04 AM

PS - And to be clear that my mother is not some trashy hobag, remarkably, able to see each other as human beings in their own right, faults and all, my mother and stepfather did divorce, but years later, reconciled and are now remarried. And happy.

Guess you have to find the bottom sometimes before you can swim back to the surface.

Posted by: beenit at May 21, 2008 10:06 AM

Shit. Sorry, I don't always read all the directions. (Standardized tests love me.)

I was approximately 22/23 when I had the experience with my mother. And my slow realization about my father began around the same age.

Both were just before I moved out of my home state and clear across country for the first time. (Indiana ---> Seattle).

Posted by: beenit at May 21, 2008 10:54 AM

the telephone rang. mom answered it. she crumpled to the floor.

it was st. patrick's day. mom made corned beef and soda bread without raisins, just the way we liked it. she knew all the foods we liked. i would sit in front of the oven with my nose to the glass, watching the golden loaves grow.

mom never let me do that to the microwave. she never let me stay out too late and never let me dye my hair or get a tattoo. in hindsight, these were good things. back then, i thought she was horrible. i would ask her questions and she always had an answer -- even on the times i didn't want her to have an answer.

that st. patrick's day, we didn't know what to do. mom was on the floor of the kitchen, crying into the phone with the cord wrapped around her. i chose to pretend nothing was happening. i finished my meal and nearly choked on how dry it had suddenly become. my brother sat next to her and hugged her and held her. my sister was away at college. dad waited for her to hang up.

she let the phone drop to the ground when the conversation was over.

later i would find out that my uncle died.

i never met him. i came close once, but the nurses wouldn't let someone as young as my brother or me into his room. it was dangerous for us.

st. patrick's day hasn't been the same since.

Posted by: katie bee at May 21, 2008 11:44 AM

When I was 14 my grandfather (Mom's Dad) died after a long string of visits to the hospital and various nursing homes. My father, normally the strong (but not silent) type, sobbed at his funeral. It was strange and touching all at the same time. 16 years later, Dad did not cry at his own dad's funeral.

Posted by: Robin at May 21, 2008 1:23 PM

My daughter is a very precocious 3. Maybe I can get it over with and show her how human I am now. I wonder what the "post superhuman" period is like?

Posted by: Paul at May 21, 2008 2:44 PM

the one moment was when i was 6. i was at my best friend's house. we each had home-made mittens, the kind connected by a string so they stay with your coat, and they were made from the same kind of yarn so they looked a lot alike. we had both got our mittens out of our coats somehow and were looking for both pair to make sure we got the right mittens before going outside to play. we were looking under the bed, and i put my hand on my friend's shoulder so that i could lean over to see under the bed too. my friend's little sister saw this and mistakenly thought that i had hit my friend. she runs over and tell's their mom, who immediately sends me home with sharp words, won't listen to a thing that me or my friend say about it. walking home, crying, i was sure that i would tell my mom, and then she would straighten out everything with my friend's mom (our moms were goog friends) and call her to tell her that i never hit anyone. but my mom didn't do anything about it. i keenly felt what, looking back, seemed a kind of tragic betrayal, that i was right, someone else was wrong, but mom wouldn't fix it, and didn't even care that another adult had a wrong idea about me. i guess she thought i was being too much of a cry-baby about the whole thing. it's the only punishment that i specifically remember, though i know there were plenty that i deserved. my introduction to injustice...

Posted by: ergo at May 21, 2008 5:14 PM

When my brother was 17, my parents told him that he needed to break up with his girlfriend. I couldn't understand it. She was pretty, smart, nice and exceedingly popular. She was way out of his league. She was also Japanese and my parents couldn't allow that.

At the time, I was 10 and I remember feeling very sorry for them that they couldn't see what I saw in her.

Posted by: Kris at May 21, 2008 6:33 PM

i was starting high school when both my parents got sick and that was just a given, they were sick. i rested on the fact that neither was given a death sentence and accepted the fact that their respective illnesses would leave them worse for the wear.

my father had lyme disease and it was trying on all of us, but it just was what it was. and it was going to get better, at least a little bit. it made him sleepy and kind of crazy and irrational (but all parents of teenagers are). his sickness was obvious. and he was always trying to get better, because he could.

my mother's disease took the back seat. she, after years of that amorphous term "back pain", was diagnosed with ankloysing spondylitis. having AS meant that ultimately her spine would fuse. i knew it could be staved off with exercise and she was doing her best, but she was still young- i mean, she was just my mom, she wasn't *old* or anything- so i didn't worry about it. just helped out when i could and didn't notice what she didn't complain about. i didn't know that most people DO complain.

as happens with many kids, i ran screaming from the house at the age of 18. i was going to college, dammit and i wasn't coming back. and i didn't, really. but the summer i turned 19 i came to visit and saw my mom walk from the house to the car in the driveway and she was limping to avoid the pain of movement. my very first reaction was disbelief. my mom wouldn't need to do that. she's fine, she's always fine. and then i realized that she wouldn't do it if she didn't have to. and she was not fine.

my father has medicines and doctors and he's still a little noticeably crazy but still getting better. my mother has pain pills and exercises but slowly her body is freezing up and will always do so. that summer afternoon, when i was 19, when my mother had been sick for years while my father clawed his way up to almost normal, i realized that she was deeply suffering too and had been, quietly. i went to my best friend's house and no one was home so i sat down in her room and cried for hours.

Posted by: chel at May 21, 2008 7:10 PM

On my eleventh or twelfth birthday my mom cried because of something a coworker said to her over the phone. This of course made me miserable too because I wanted to have a happy birthday and I expected my family to be unconditionally happy too.

Posted by: dnass at May 21, 2008 9:03 PM

My father, when I was about 9 or 10. He was cutting firewood with a chain saw and it bounced out of the wood and off his leg, deeply cutting it open. He drove himself to the hospital, but he was in a bad way for a good while. Watching him drive and curse under his breath, with just a little undercurrent of fear, showed me that he was human after all. He was amazing. When I was in grade school and screwing off and generally underachieving he sat me down and outlined the choices I had right at that moment. Not "You better do right!", but "You can choose to slack off and I won't punish you for it, but there are things you won't be able to do later that you might want to, and I will be disappointed and sad for you then."
He was right. I did better, and cleaned up my act, not wanting to let him down. But it came to naught when he died of leukemia after 3 weeks of illness three days before my 11th birthday. The moment he died is still burned in my brain some 20-odd years later, he kept himself alive by sheer force of will until we made it to the hospital and had our final moments together as a family. Whew, that brings back tears after so long without thinking about it.

Posted by: AtheT at May 22, 2008 3:30 AM

In direct response to your interesting note, the first time I knew Dad was human was when he threatened me with a stick and I took it out of his hands and snapped it in half. I was 15, he looked about 10.

In terms of fragility, when I was about 8 years old, my Dad did some work with a local politician and ended up being photographed for the local newspaper.

When that picture was published we all huddled over the paper and laughed and joked about Dad and his new found fame but suddenly, to me, my healthy looking Dad seemed so vulnerable and frail. I knew in that mysterious, muffled laughter moment that my Dad was going to die. 13 years later he did. Miss you Pops.

Posted by: Matt at May 22, 2008 4:24 AM

my mother: we go to church every sunday and its a fairly traditional catholic church. one time when i was about 5 or 6 my dad was out of town because of his job for the week, and i pestered my mom during church way too much. i dont remember what i did exactly but she walked out half way through mass and drove my younger brother and i home in complete silence. she started crying and yelling at us (mostly me because my brother didnt know better.) she completely lost it.
i look back on that and realize that my mom was a stressed out young woman with two small children and a husband who was gone every other week. she didnt want to be stuck with the kids all the time and have to take them to work with her and never go anywhere. she just wanted to get some relief from her religion that made her feel more secure and happy about her place in life, but her damn little girl had to go and mess that one thing up.
it was really the first time i saw that my mom was afraid or weak or scared in any way. those instances were always few and far between because my mom is a strong woman. it got less stressful for her after a few years because dad got a better work schedual and we both got in school.

my dad: my dad was my hero. he made me laugh and i always felt like i was his favorite because we had so much in common. whenever we met new people they always said 'oh you look so much like your father' and i was so proud to look like the best man in the universe. he wasnt always home when i wanted him to be because he had a weird work schedual when i was little. but all the time we spent together felt like i was the luckiest person ever, and i was so happy to spend a few minutes with just me and him.
he used to make special time just for us to be together as if we were secret best friends. we would wake up early and watch xmen and spiderman and pinky and the brain and power rangers together in the morning while my mom was taking her shower and getting ready for work. or he would read to me before i went to bed instead of mom always reading, and that was a special treat. one time my dad made "grown up" sandwiches instead of pbjs and we listened to the hobbit while having a teaparty (just like bilbo! i said to my dad.)
he is the manliest man i know. he goes hunting and fishing and camping. he's missed my birthday more than once for moose hunting but he wont admit it. he loves his jeep and all his toys. but he loves jazz. and he's the one who watches musicals with me and sings girly songs in the car in his falsetto voice and i think that makes him much more of a man. if my dad casually tells me i look nice i know he really means it. whenever we travel he is my flying buddy and we talk about what we want to be when we grow up.
my dads father died when i was about 9 i guess. it wasnt the first time i had seen him cry. id seen him cry once or twice before, but it didnt ever really matter until this time. his dad had parkinson's and was in a wheelchair as long as i could remember. grandpa had always frightened me, but dad knew him when he was strong and commanding.
the part that bothered me most was that my dad wasnt strong enough, wasnt man enough to go to his own fathers funeral. he couldnt fly down to sit with his mother and brother and support them. i asked him why and he wouldnt answer me. mom told me to drop it and leave dad alone. i felt like he was abandoning his family and running away from his fear. i didnt understand that it hurt him too badly for him to be able to face it. but it made me realize that my dad was only human and not this wonderful hero i thought he was. i love him, but hes not perfect. i still wish he had gone to that funeral.

Posted by: Rachel at May 22, 2008 4:29 AM

My first memory of my mother's humanity is also one of deepest shame for me. I was about five or six years old, still steeped in that childhood mentality that's largely unaware of other people's sensitivities. My mom was driving back from a doctor's appointment with me in the car - she'd gone to see why she was losing so much hair. It was a simple deficiency, but there was a chance that she'd lose it all before the treatment could take hold. I asked her if she would need a wig, and she said 'maybe.' I'd finished reading Roald Dahl's 'The Witches' recently, wherein the witch characters all wear wigs to hide their bald heads, and without thinking, I asked, 'like a witch?'

God, I can't even write about this without crying. Mom cried so hard, back then, that she had to pull the car over at a gas station. She kept sobbing, 'I'm not a witch, I'm not,' and that was the first time I realized the impact of my words. I was so afraid, and I felt so badly for her. Sadly, it didn't prevent a few further insensitive remarks, but I've remembered them always, and tried to think before I speak.

Posted by: Carin at May 22, 2008 10:39 AM

My first moment was I think I was about 14 (1988?)or something and I don't remember a lot of details but I remember my dad saying to me "I'll give you a dollar if you ____" (can't remember exactly what it was - it could've been a chore of some sort- take out the trash) Anyway, I remember saying "no" and then thinking man he still thinks I would be tempted by one dollar. he still thinks i'm 5. that kind of made me feel bad for him and sad in general that he wasn't realizing that i was browing up just a little..

but the major thing that happened was 4 years ago when he fell into depression. doctors diagnosed it as severe depression. he got neurotic to the point where we couldn't stand to be with him, especially because he wouldn't sleep at night. he was 5'3 and less than 90 pounds because he stopped eating. we took him to the hospital and in the beginning they were just going to do a check-up but once they did a psychiatric evaluation they decided it was best that he was admitted into the hospital on an involuntary basis, meaning in a locked psychiatric unit, meaning we couldn't take him out of here if we tried unless the doctors cleared him to leave. this was my father for 28 years at the time. he was in a locked unit in a psychiatric ward just like that. it looked like a nursing home would. white, bland, strange looking patients. mostly all of them in a daze staring at the tv, staring at all of us when we walked in. the room was drab, they wouldn't allow anything in his room. the toothbrush and shaving stuff had to be kept behind a desk, not even hangers in the room. we left him there around midnight and i came home and cried uncontrollably for what must have been a half hour. i had let him down i felt as the oldest child. how else could the man that brought us to a country of such great opportunity 21 years ago have gotten so weak so suddenly...

Posted by: Ace at May 22, 2008 1:03 PM

I was 12, and in the throes of discovering rock music. I grandly announced to mom that I wanted guitar lessons, and was going to become a famous rock star!

She gently said "Not everyone can be famous, dear. Rock bands need fans too."

I must have already been ingrained in her "Don't Try, Won't Fail" ways, because I'm ashamed to say I quietly capitulated.

Posted by: A Nonny Moose at May 22, 2008 10:14 PM

My parents fought a lot, sometimes with my father physically attacking my mother. Life was fractious and i felt unsafe. I didn`t speak much. My mother loved me but drank too much , and set the tone for us viewing our father as weak. My father loved me as much as he was able. My mother collapsed when I was 9 and the neighbours ushered us off to school, where later we were told that she had died, I remembered thinking that my dad would now be happy, because he seemed to dislike her (himself) so much. So I was shocked and amazed to find my father crying and even wailing as the mourners came by to offer their condolences. I remember looking at him and understanding that the stronger overlay of his sense of loss was his own self-pity.
Forgiveness is an amazing thing. Forgiving your parents for having such a difficult time thrust upon them in their own lives and forgiving them for losing their hope and thus being crippled emotionally. . Forgiveness has the ability to free me from repeating the same thing.

Posted by: Julianne at May 22, 2008 10:28 PM

First time I ever found my dad “weak” was just this last weekend. I was helping my dad move a ping-pong table and realized that he was struggling more than I was to lift it. It was the first time that it really dawned on me that he was getting old and not as strong as he used to be. I am happy to say, that lifting a ping-pong table is the only ‘weakness’ I have ever seen from my father – he has been a great parent, husband, and friend. Thanks Dad! (I am 30).

Posted by: Jon at May 23, 2008 4:28 PM

I think it was when I was about 10 or 11. My grandmother, my mom's mother, got a major stroke. We (me, my mother, father, brother and sister) heard in the evening. My mom immediatly went to the hospital, with my dad, and we stayed home. Then the next day my dad came to pick us up to see her. She was in a coma then. And on the way there we got a call that she was dead. Twas the first time I saw my dad cry. It made a huge impression.

Second time I ever saw him cry, which immediatly made me feel tiny, was when I went to the US for 3 months and we were at the airport. Again, made a huge impression. Hm.

Posted by: 2722532 at May 25, 2008 7:22 AM

Great stories guys.

Most of your stories start out with your parents showing one of their faults. Either is was mine, or I was actually convinced it was my fault after years of the little battle waging in my house.

I was 12 and was automatically chosen to be in a pre-advanced program. This was my first year in middle school, and one of my dad's first years of being a housewife. My grades weren't going so well, and I guess fate wanted everything to be zen, because my home life, or what little of a home life i had, was miserable. My impression of my dad had been going down since he came home, or more like dropped off of a cliff.

I think the defining moment was when he sent me to my room ofter a week-long feud. I stayed put in the dark for hours, but he sank to my level and came in when my mom got home. He started to yell at me, and I'd rather skip the conversation but I told them both to shut the - up. Then he hit me, and it probably wasn't very hard, but we ended the conversation with him screaming to the neighborhood at around 11, "What is wrong with you?"

Really the straw that broke the camel's back was another "What's wrong with you" moment that happened increasingly often back then. I didn't get sent to my room, but I went anyway. I didn't have much breakfast, and I skipped the rest of my food that day as I counted the hours.

1,2,3...

It ended up as the 8 full hours where I developed my love of reading, writing, and the chronic distrust of my dad.

Posted by: Lena at May 25, 2008 10:24 PM

I had to become a wife and mother before I faced the fact that my own mother was a weak, whiny baby.

I never realized what a pampered wuss my mother was until I got married. My mom helped my mother-in-law get a job where she worked and it turned out my mom had a lot of personality clashes with the boss and other employees. One day my mom told me she'd been laid off (she claimed that even tho she had seniority she made the most $ so she was the 1st to go). She told my dad and sister the same story and we all believed her. One day my m.i.l. couldn't stand it anymore and told me that my mom had been fired for being a raging nutjob, throwing stuff, crying, etc. I never told my mom or my dad or even my sister.

Over the years I'd heard people call my mother "spoiled" and "pampered" but it didn't make sense to me, after all, she always worked. But once I was married and had kids I realized how much my dad had let her get away with murder. HE cooked dinner every night even tho they both worked...she never learned to drive until her 30's and now that they're retired and down to one car she NEVER drives even when it's a real inconvenience for everyone. One time my dad came down with shingles in Florida and they had driven down there from Pennsylvania and even tho he was in excruciating pain he drove the ENTIRE WAY back home because (he said) she "didn't understand highway driving." They sold their house two years ago and bought a beautiful, large mobile home with a porch, attached garage, etc., and I noticed that it is so clean and tidy compared to the house I grew up in. I mentioned it to my sister and she said "that's because Dad now does all the housework." And even tho they're retired, my dad still works part-time in an on-call position so he has weird hours but guess who still makes every meal? So he cooks, cleans, drives everywhere, etc. and she watches soaps, works out and diets obsessively.

Oh, and when my kids were little she acted like the best grandma in the world but never once fed them, not even a bottle or changed their diapers and wouldn't babysit them by herself because she freaked out over every little thing. My sister's kids are still little and all my mom wants them to do when they're at her house is "take a nap!" even though they're 5 and 3...

My dad is pretty weak-assed, too, for letting my mother get away with all this shite for 50 years...

sigh

Posted by: Freya_B at May 26, 2008 8:35 AM

I was about 14. I was doing homework in my room and I heard sobbing. It was a strange sound, as though the mechanisms that allowed for my father's crying were unpracticed and awkward. I went out to the kitchen and found my dad. He'd thought I was sleeping. I asked him what was wrong. He said that I needed to make sure that I spoke to him before making any big decisions.

Posted by: habile b at May 26, 2008 2:03 PM

Interesting - for so many people this happened younger than I.

I am 31 and the first time I saw my dad as weak with a year ago. He developed a neurological problem that caused him to lose his memory, have numerous epileptic seizures and fall over.

I'll never forget though - being with him at the hospital after a particularly bad attack. The doctor was panicking saying that he had to be admitted immediately. I was panicking not knowing how to handle the situation since we were in a foreign country without medical cover. My dad - seizures, falls and all suddenly realized what was going on and took charge of the situation. He laid out a plan of action - calmed the doctor and me down and displayed absolute control of the situation. It was like watching a one time athlete step out of their wheelchair. I'll never forget that.

Love my dad.

Posted by: Michael at May 27, 2008 1:59 PM

I was around 18 or 19 when my dad had his first heart attack. My father was in the I.C.U in his bed when I walked in, he was plugged into so many machines, had tubes up his nose and it freaked me out.
My father being a strong man, a horse trainer and jockey had worked all his life and never complained about anything, racing a horse with a broken knee...that was my father. A horse running wild after an accident on the race track, my father would stand in front of the raging horse and make him stop.
It came as a shock to me when in that hospital room he asked for my help to go to the bathroom. He was too weak to help himself up out of bed and yet too proud to use a bed pan. I saw my father in a different light that day and I have loved him more ever since.
He has passed on now but I love him more today than I ever did.

I miss you dad!

Isabelle

Posted by: Isabelle at May 27, 2008 7:22 PM

My stepfather was diagnosed with Leukemia. I never thought of my mother as weak or fragile, but when he was diagnosed she said, "What is going to happen to me?"

There was so much in that statement. Selfishness...fear...I was 38 years old and suddenly my mother was more of a peer than the ideal woman I had always thought of her as.

Posted by: Christina at May 27, 2008 7:40 PM

tsk... haven't check your blog for few days... and I had such a good story on this subject.... somehow, i think you might have lost interest, after... uhmmm... 115 stories? can't contain myself, and gotta give the highlights: the story would have been about my father's zipper, my mom's cherry pie and my grandmother's tea pot, all in one... a yellow bird involved. the bird being the only one who didn't survive. I should definitely check your blog more often.

Posted by: rox at May 27, 2008 11:51 PM

as long as i can remember daddy was 'mean' to momma. he verbally and physically abused her often. fear was continully present in our house. i never thought of him as weak back then thought because i was scared of him. then, when i was a teen-ager i stood up to him and he came after me. i was eating ice cream in a bowl at the time and just threw it at him. it cut his lip and he howled. he couldn't believe i did that to HIM. of course, i was sure he would really beat me, but he was too busy with trying to stop his lip from bleeding... anyway, he went to the ER (2 towns away so as not to 'lose face' (ha) ) and had stitches. after that i wasn't as afraid of him anymore.

as for my mother, i'm not sure when first saw her as being weak because she was always getting beat on and being called bad names. i didn't see her as being weak then though, i thought of daddy being a bully.... she first seemed weak when her mother died. she cried and talked about how much she missed her. i've always remembered this and worry about what i'll do when momma is gonel.

myra

Posted by: myra at May 28, 2008 1:49 AM

For my mom, it was when I came home from college for the first time (21) - she was driving me through my hometown and just talking about whatever the car was passing at the time, in short bursts. I realized then that I was smarter than her (that was 5 years ago, I'm not so sure anymore that that's true, maybe she was just nervous for some reason).

For my dad, it's been a more gradual process - I can't think of one defining moment, but now I notice how human he is every time he talks about sports with my male friends - it makes him so happy.

This is a little off-topic, but I also have a strong memory of the moment I realized that adults are human - much earlier than my parents. I was in 5th grade (11), and my teacher accidentally taught us the concepts of "cause" and "effect" backwards. I realized that authority figures aren't right all of the time.

Posted by: Katie at May 28, 2008 3:48 AM

I was in college, probably about 19 years old, and over the phone I told my mother about my new boyfriend. When she found out he was black, she said "Don't tell your father - he'll pull you out of school!"

It blindsided me. I just didn't see that coming. They hadn't shown any bigotry at all up to that point. I felt like I was talking to a stranger.

Posted by: Colleen at May 28, 2008 6:46 PM

Around 10. Saw "In Cold Blood" on TV. Realized that could have been our house, our family. This house. This family.

Posted by: Jeff at May 28, 2008 11:02 PM

For me, it was when my mom decided to go back to work. She had stayed at home with us until I was 12 and then she decided to go back to work part-time. She was a nurse and took a job at a local hospital. The moment I felt the way you described was when she came home from that first day of work. She was crying and it was ... horrible. There had been roaches at the hospital and I don't think she was prepared for an environment like that. I was so angry at the people who allowed such a place to exist because of how it hurt my mom on her first day back to work in 12 years. She didn't go back there, but it still angers me to think about it. I didn't want her to be vulnerable - I wanted her to be Mom. So, that place became the enemy.

Posted by: Jumpy at May 28, 2008 11:29 PM

I was in 4th or 5th grade and was leaving my house to go somewhere with my mom (i can't remember where). I let the door close on her and she dropped whatever she was carrying. Without a pause she slapped me across the face. It was the first time she had ever hit me (i don't even remember spankings or anything). She started crying and saying how sorry she was for doing it, we sat in the car for 20 minutes before she was calm enough to drive. I'd seen her cry before, but i'd never seen her loose her temper like that, I always had though of her as so calm, perfect balance to my hot tempered father, but after that i knew she was human just like him.

Posted by: Kyle jutkiewicz at May 30, 2008 5:04 PM

well i realized my da was an asshole when i was 12 and he moved to egypt and fell in love with his 25 year old maid because she said she'd give him boy babies. my older sister and i were never good enough. he caused me to have social anxiety disorder with his drunken screaming fits, and a while back i think i was 16, he was screaming at me to do a million things at once and i just broke down and started crying and he was screaming stop crying i kinda screamed/stammered back "i can't" and he hugged me so hard my sinuses popped and he was rocking me back and forth appologizing but i still didnt like him.

Posted by: emily at June 4, 2008 1:48 PM

First time commenter.

I was less than four because it was before we moved from Alaska to South Carolina. I remember vividly that I woke up early, around 7am, and was going to try to turn on the Disney Channel while waiting for my mother to wake up. I went upstairs to the den and she was sitting in the armchair (that we still have!) up at the top, staring out the front windows. I automatically knew that she'd been up all night and was in awe at the fact that she could stay awake so long. I asked her if she'd been up, and she nodded her head with tears in her eyes.

I still don't know what she was upset about that night, but I've been a worrier ever since! I'm 25 now.

Good topic.

Posted by: Lisa at June 13, 2008 8:34 AM

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