At the end of a day in early January I left my office, homeward bound. I would walk one block east to the waterfront and then two blocks north on the wide sidewalk edging San Francisco's bay to the ferry terminal where I would board a ferry to Larkspur, 30 minutes to the north.
Less than a month past the winter solstice, it was dusk as the afternoon bled into evening. Freed from its daytime tasks and disengaged from the extraordinary view by familiarity, my mind moved into criticism of my parents.
I paused on the curb for a break in traffic before crossing the street. By the time I reached the other side, my thoughts had firmly latched onto how little I know.
At 62 the scope of what I don't know has become heavy. It was only 2 to 3 years ago that I learned how to tell if the moon was getting bigger or smaller by looking at it! What did my parents teach me? The more I thought about it, the less I found.
The last ten years or so of my life have seen me trying to rid myself of undesirable behaviors I did learn from my parents—such as being critical and judgmental. Lately criticizing my parents for their shortcomings has become common.
This night I tried not to wallow. The enlightened being I yearn to be grasped for fairness. And I came to see that if it took me 60 years to begin to see The Great Truths of Life, I couldn't expect the 25- and 30-year olds who were my young parents to (1) have learned them and (2) to teach them. Oh.
What were my concerns at that age? Economic survival, which involved establishing myself in a career that would support me financially. A love relationship with a man, which meant starting over after a horrible first marriage.
No room for The Great Truths of Life. No time or ability to teach my own child.
My parents had their own lives and their marriage to constrain their attention. They had their own childhoods to set aside or overcome. They had two wars intrude—my father was a soldier who fought in World War II and in the Korean War, which kept him away from his family for months at a time.
My sister and I survived childhood in good health and with a decent education. And then we were on our own, each of us escaping our parental home at 18.
Perhaps that is all we can and should expect of parents—physical survivial, good health, and a high school education.
How many people who become parents in their twenties are capable of accomplishing more?
It is only when your survival needs are well met that you can look beyond. These days that point isn't reached until age 40 or later. How many mid-life crises are the result of a realization that the survival efforts that defined your life for so long no longer apply?
Essentially, children raise children. Parents in their twenties and thirties may be legal adults, but their actual parenting efforts are primitive. They are barely out of emotional childhood themselves.
In this light it is amazing that any family with children can be other than dysfunctional.
Is this good? Is it inevitable? Is there another way?