Thursday, 12 March 2009

Mother and son

Jenny and I have spent a lot of time discussing the Julie Myerson book and whether she was right to tell the world about her poor relationship with her son.

It makes me think of my own teenage relationship with my father - a very upsetting one - and how I would have felt if he had written a book about me. Without doubt I would have been incandescent.

I was angry enough with him as it was. Like Julie Myerson, he threw me out of the house because he could no longer cope with what he saw as my anti-social and inconsiderate behaviour.

As far as I was concerned, I was just a normal rebellious teenager, forming my own views, following my own interests, and no longer doing and saying what he expected, i.e. being a replica of him.

I would come home in the early hours and disturb him, I would invite round friends he considered disreputable and degenerate, I would engage him in long political arguments he saw as naive and absurd. He finally decided "enough was enough" and told me to leave. I was 22 at the time.

Yes, maybe I WAS inconsiderate and selfish, as he said. But I was furious that he was so unloving, so intolerant, so lacking in understanding, so ruthless, so high-handed. He was treating me not as his son but like some wayward lodger who had breached the tenancy agreement.

Our relationship continued to be stormy and distant for many years, right up to his death in 1988. It was bad enough that he wrote me hateful letters attacking everything about me and dismissing me as immature and irresponsible.

If he had actually put all his one-sided and heartless views into a book for thousands of complete strangers to read, I would have gone through the roof. I would have retaliated in any way I could to get my own back. I imagine Julie Myerson's son Jake must feel something similar.

She defends her book by saying bad relationships should be talked about and not hidden to preserve the image of a "happy family". So, talk about them to friends, relatives, therapists, vicars, whoever. But why is it necessary to vilify your son to the whole world?

Photo: Julie Myerson

I can't stop listening to: "Keep 'Er Lit" by Cara Robinson


Clare said...

Ah, I don't think she vilified her son to the whole world. She was telling her story, which I'm sure is a powerful one. Families are not perfect. They never are. We need to be able to talk about the bad bits as well as the Walton-esque moments. I think it took great courage for her to write that book, and am sure that there are many parents out there saying, "phew, it's not just me". If anything, I think we need more of her honesty and courage.

Her son is an adult. She is entitled to her story too. Just because she bore him, does not make him immune from her opinions.

Grannymar said...

Sometimes being a parent is difficult. Children from a very early age need boundaries. It is a matter of guiding them safely through them. There is a fine line between discipline and stifling a spirit.

I encouraged Elly to go away to College as I felt she would grow and come back as my friend, rather than crossing swords on a daily basis driving a wedge between us.

I think it worked well for us.

Nick said...

Clare - Thanks for putting the less popular view! Always good to have both sides of the picture. Don't think I can agree though. Surely many parents must already be aware that their situation is shared by other parents, simply through talking to people and reading (anonymous) media accounts?

Of course she's entitled to her story but should she be broadcasting it to all and sundry?

Grannymar - I'm glad you and Elly have such a good relationship and that kind of estrangement never occurred. If only every family was as lucky.

Dave Hampton said...

I certainly understand your perspective and agree with you on two points. Julie should have sought her son's consent (or perspective) as part of her story; as Claire points out, it is a family story, not belonging to either alone. It's also unfortunate that you and your father remained estranged: I'm sorry.

I had a very difficult time raising my son thought his 15-21 years; he did many of the same things you describe and it's hard not to take it personally and to get angry as a result. I engaged a counselor to give me some perspective and to talk things through, and that helped. I did anguish about when to 'cut the cord' and ask him to leave, and there were close moments. In the end he lived with us until 22 when he found a direction and moved on himself. Although we are now, a year later, good friends (I'm flying to see him next week), it left impacts on my life and divided the rest of the family. I never gave up on him, but I know that there are things that I would change things if I had a do-over.

I'll never write a book, and I don't know your situation, but it's a very, very hard dilemma to work through from both sides.

Wisewebwoman said...

Gee, it's a powder keg of a situation, Nick, and we can all only write from our own perspectives. As you know I have one estranged daughter and I would write about her only under one condition, that she tell her side of the story as well. I think it would make an interesting book.
But these one sided accounts are unfair, I believe. A total breach of trust.
I can relate to your situation with your dad, mine was turbulent too and I only reached peace when I dealt with my side of it. It took years of work to let go of the abuse.
But the hurt never fully goes away. We all plead for understanding, particularly from our parents and when we don't get it our wounds run very deep.

Nick said...

Dave - The consent bit is tricky. Julie maintains Jake consented but now he maintains he didn't. Sorry you had to go through the same sort of anguish yourself, but I'm glad the situation is improving. I expect my father would have said he was only acting in what he thought were my best interests, but I couldn't see it that way.

www - It's a powder keg all right. I'm sure an account of your relationship with your daughter (with her consent) would be interesting and helpful to others. I guess I'm still hurt deep down but I don't harbour any big grudges or resentments, I've never been that kind of person.

Baino said...

I think there's also something to be said for not 'airing dirty laundry'. I haven't read the book but I wouldn't write one about such a personal situation unless I could thinly veil it in fiction. I'm sorry your relationship with your father was rocky Nick. Our father's have incredible influences on us.

A friend of mine recently committed suicide and left the most hateful letters for his children because as teenagers, they had chosen to live with their mother . . they have to deal with that for the rest of their lives, feeling somehow responsible for his death even though he was a poor father and role model.

I think family disputes are best left for family or until the participants are long gone and little more than a distant memory.

Raising children (alone I might add) is the hardest thing I've ever done and a constant balancing act between discepline and understanding and I'm fortunate that our relationships are well and truly intact. Due in no small part to great love and tolerance on my behalf . . .a lesson your father could have learned by the sound of it.

Nick said...

Baino - Killing yourself and leaving nasty letters for your children is an absolutely shocking thing to do. As you say, those letters may haunt them for years. From what I can judge, you've done an excellent job bringing up your two. Seems like they're very healthy in every way.

Suburbia said...

I guess her motivation is making a lot of money.

What you have said about your father is interesting. It is a lesson for all of us parents to try to listen and understand our children, just a little bit more, whatever age.

Nick said...

Suburbia - Ironically, she'll make a much bigger sum of money because of all the publicity over the furious protests! You're right, parents have to make a real effort to understand their children and prevent them growing apart. Once they do, it can be very hard to heal the breach.

Liz said...

I have always said to my children that there is nothing they could do that would stop me loving them or cause me to want to not see them or help them. I can't ever imagine being so angry/hurt/disturbed by anything my children did as to want to disown them or throw them out - and I certainly wouldn't want to talk about it in public. It's no different from being one of Jerry Springer's 'guests', is it?

I don't know anything about the woman or her book but from what you say it doesn't sound as if she's helping matters.

Nick said...

Liz - That's a wonderful attitude to have, that there's nothing that would cause you to disown them. Children should always be able to rely on their parents for, at the very least, compassion and a fair hearing.