Tuesday, 5 June 2012

An awful likeness

One of the worst things you can say to most people is either "You're turning into your mother" or "You're turning into your father." Given that we're all acutely aware of our parents' failings, the idea that we might be reproducing them sends a shiver down our spine.

Even if we're thinking more of our parents' virtues, we still don't want to be told that we're merely a carbon copy of a parent, we want to have our own identity and take our own route through life.

I certainly don't like to be told that I take after my father, who in my opinion had a stack of unpleasant traits I spent most of my time trying consciously to avoid. Self-righteous bullying, among other things.

It helps that he hasn't been around for 24 years. Once a parent is gone, you're no longer exposed to the character flaws you disliked, and you're less likely to copy them. And when nobody can see the two of you together any more, they're less prone to see resemblances. I'm especially fortunate since Jenny never actually met my father and knows nothing about him except what I choose to reveal. So it's extremely rare for her to utter that dread phrase "You're turning into your father."

But it says something about our underlying view of our parents that if we're told we're morphing into one of them, our reaction is invariably one of shock and horror. My God, you can't be serious? You think I'm like my mother? This is terrible! Even if we're aware of all their good points, we never say "I'm like my mother? That's fantastic. How lovely of you to say so!" No, we always assume the worst, that the other person can see some vile, hideous trait that makes us thoroughly unattractive.

But as far as I'm concerned, I'm not like my father in any way at all. Absolutely, positively not. And you can't say any different as you've never met him. So there.

33 comments:

Grannymar said...

Nick, I think that you are just like you!

Wisewebwoman said...

We are all so unique, it is a shame to take that away from us by comparison to another.

Having said that I've been immensely pleased when Daughter reacts so positively to comparisons with me.

XO
WWW

Cheerful Monk said...

Someone once told me that I looked just like my mother. It warmed my heart. Not that we really looked alike or that either one of us were raving beauties. But I was helping to nurse her as she was dying of cancer and I loved her deeply.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

Ahahahah! No, I certainly can't suggest you're like your father!

It is funny, isn't it? My mother had (of course) various character flaws which drove me nuts while she was still alive. I understand them, but they were hard to live with. However, she was very well loved by most people so if someone says 'you're just like your mother', it's likely to be a compliment.

So why is it that when on a rare occasion someone does say so, I cringe? I can't work out of it's some bizarre human trait that we can't bear to be like our parents, or if it's more simple than that: I feel inadequate when measured against her, and believe they've got me wrong?

Jenny Woolf said...

You are so right, there is something most unpleasant in the suggestion that we are just carbon copies of someone else. But thank God, we actually physically cannot be. Phew!

And I am sure you are not like your dad.

Actually I don't mind being told I'm like my mother, as I admire the way she copes with her life. Rather wish I'd tried to be more like her when I was younger, as it might be easier now to do the things that she does.

JohnD said...

My brother and I are 3 years apart - I'm the elder - but we could pass for twins and have often been confused for each other. (Worked in my favour when I was a wild youth! lol!)

Bijoux said...

Other than looks wise, no one has ever said I was anything like my mother! And I'm grateful for that!

Isn't it funny how we don't want to be compared to our parents, but love it when someone says our kids are just like us??

heartinsanfrancisco said...

You are not like your father, not one bit, any more than I am not like my mother. And for good measure, you are also not like your mother, etc.

Nick said...

Grannymar - Gosh, so I am!

www - Interesting that you're so pleased when daughter reacts positively to the comparison! And interesting that she's so positive about it!

Monk - That's good that you found the comparison heart-warming. Ideally we all would, I guess.

Nick said...

Jay - I know what you mean about your mum. My own mother has lots of habits which drive me nuts, but she gets on fine with everyone else!

Intriguing idea that when we're measured against a parent, we feel inadequate. I think that's part of the reaction for me too.

Megan said...

I'm like my parents because they brought me up.

Sure, stopping myself in the middle of a sentence to say, "Oh my goiter stop me do I sound like my mom or what?" can be a bit of a conversation stopper, but that's because the only people I hang out with any more are my family.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty damn lucky in that respect.

Or cursed.

Nick said...

Jenny - Yes, of course if you admire your parents, that's a different matter. There must be plenty of people who consciously aspire to be like a parent who is very gifted or open-hearted or capable.

John D - And do you take after your parents?

Bijoux - Indeed, an amusing irony. But do we really want our kids to be just like us? That could be very boring - or annoying.

Nick said...

Heart - Thank you, that's exactly what I wanted to hear.

Megan - And do they agree you sound like your mum? No way would I want to sound like my mum. And no doubt vice versa.

Rummuser said...

That makes two of us and my old man is still around to reinforce my determination not to be anything like him.

Los Angelista said...

I think it's the tone. When people say that you're turning into your mum or dad, they're not saying it in a loving tone. They're trying to be passive aggressively insulting--sometimes directly insulting. That's what gets me riled up. But when the person is someone who is talking about a really good quality of my mom, like how pretty she is, then I'm totally happy to be compared!

Nick said...

Ramana - Yes, you have a very visible role model to diverge from!

Liz - That's true, it's the tone. It usually implies criticism of some kind. But of course if it's a positive point they're referring to, that's different!

Eryl said...

I'm so much like my mother I sometimes think I am her, until I notice how much like my father I am in certain respects.

Nick said...

Eryl - So presumably the resemblances don't bother you at all? When you notice them, you don't rush for a stiff drink?

Wisewebwoman said...

Forgot to mention Nick - the older I get the more I look like my father and the recent pics of me on stage froze my heart. I am the head off him now.

Never ever ever something I aspired to. He was a street angel and a house devil.

Karma.
She be an awful t'ing, b'y.

XO
WWW

e said...

I am like both parents with regard to sheer bloodymindedness, which appears to run throughout my family line. Unlike them, I choose my battles very carefully and have no penchant for self-destruction.

Nick said...

www - A street angel and a house devil, I like that description. I hope that bit doesn't apply to you!

e - My father was pretty bloodyminded, and unlike you he didn't choose his battles carefully, he let rip at anything he fancied without a thought.

nursemyra said...

I was adopted as a baby but have met my birth mother. I look a lot like her and we share many character traits. then again, the mother who raised me passed along many of her characteristics as well. Nature vs. nurture.

Nick said...

Myra - The phrase "You're turning into your mother" could be a little confusing then. Which mother would we be talking about?

Bijoux said...

Oh, it's annoying all right! I suffer through it every day!

Nick said...

Bijoux - Like looking at yourself in a mirror, I guess. Could be most unnerving.

blackwatertown said...

I think it's partly just to do with getting - and looking - older - like them.
I try to keep smiling - it seems to make a difference. (To resemblances and my disposition.)

Nick said...

Paul - That may be part of it, but I think it's more the perceived negative character traits you don't want to pick up.

Liz said...

Husband never met my mother so I'm safe! Unfortunately I know/knew his parents well and whenever I say he's turning into one of them it's for their bad points! (Maybe it's an in-law thing; they do/did have good points but when husband displays one of them I don't instantly think, 'Oh he's like his mum/dad.')

Nick said...

Liz - Ah, maybe that's the unconscious principle. If your partner does something praiseworthy, it's all their own work. But if they do something objectionable, then it's not really their fault, they're just taking after one of their parents...

Eryl said...

There was a time when the very notion of being anything like my mother filled me with horror, but I've got used to it and now I don't mind at all.

Nick said...

Eryl - You must have decided over the years that the characteristics you saw as so awful are actually more positive than you thought.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I have fought hard to not be like either parent - but I admit it's a struggle. I think of them as negative role models for my life.

Nick said...

Agent - I see my parents as negative role models too. And struggling against a negative model is much harder work than copying a positive one!