Picking Parents

We Cannot Have the Parents We Want; We Have the Parents We Are Given.

Of whom so dear
The name to hear
Illumines with a Glow
As intimate — as fugitive
As Sunset on the snow —

(Emily Dickinson, 1533A)

We all have parents. What that means for us is often a mystery to us. I think our sons know who we are. But neither my wife nor I know how our parents came to be who they were.

Many others, perhaps most, create parents that fit who they are. Some use their parents to be who they want to be, or try to.

We all know the teenager who gains admission to a school because a parent went there. Sometimes legacy confers money. Sometimes that legacy is shame untold.

But last night two legacies had 100 million reasons to go on the air and talk about themselves, because of their parents. Harry’s inherited legacy spans centuries. Those before him led, won, and bought power and wealth. By virtue of his birth, he is a full celebrity. The other had great success in her career, but was on national television this time for marrying the offspring of centuries of fame. They spoke of their families, their lives, and, well, being famous.

Why do we care? I think it is because we all have parents. All royal drama is family drama.

An architect, whom I taught 35 years ago, does great things. His focus and vision are pretty unique and honest. But he has a hard inheritance. He has a cancer that Dr. Internet says has a “probability of genetic causality.” His will be a tough decade, or less. Because of his parents.

My grandfather was not a nice man. My grandmother died trying to avoid having his second child. My father was a year old. His next 77 years never left that beginning, made by his parents, dead before I was born, made him, then me.

We are concerned about the parentage of others because our own parents are inescapable. Every day. The sins of parents give rise to innumerable burdens. The drunk. The abuser. The absentee. Their flaws become our own. The virtues of parents give rise to our own: intelligence, demeanor, and class.

A therapist I know has come to believe that trauma is worst in childhood. No one asks to be born. No one chooses parents. Children are definitionally powerless. Parents are virtually gods. If god is cruel, he or she cannot be at fault, so the child feels responsible for any inadequacies. My siblings’ lives (and one death) stem from the fruit of our parents.

So we love (or hate) the Royals, and those whom they marry. We transcend our powerlessness by associating with (or disassociating from) the power that we give to them, just like their power was given to them.

Like the legacies of our parents, all we have has been given to us. We earn nothing. Ever. From anyone. We do not live because anyone achieved anything but fertility. We live for the same reason my architect friend will have a circumscribed life: because the gift of life was not made by us but given to us. We credit our parents, our first gods. But it is God who made this, not we ourselves.

We cannot have the parents we want; we have the parents we are given. And it is not to our fault or our credit. Many try to create a different legacy than the one given to them. A friend of mine, born to abuse, said to me, later in life after his family had passed, “I can create the family I had hoped for.” Others simply do not address it. At 65, I have night terrors. But our parents are never us.

So much has been taken away in this Year of Lent. Including many parents. Gone without reason, gone from us because of things totally out of any control. We can blame, understand, even prevent some death for a while, but these gifts are not owned, we are but the stewards of them while we are here.

The briefest of love creates us here. But the unknowable whole of love made all of this, here, now. We did not make it, and the chance of life being created by chance is laughable. No, it is a gift. We did not choose it, or much else. Especially our parents.

Of whom so dear
The name to hear
Illumines with a Glow
As intimate — as fugitive
As Sunset on the snow —

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One response to “Picking Parents”

  1. Mel says:

    Love this one duo! Such great insight!

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