Saturday, December 18, 2010

Crappy Holidays

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a while now, about my father and what his miserly bastard ways meant for the holidays. Any of you from dysfunctional families will I'm quite sure recognize just how not fun the holidays can be. Especially given the prevailing attitude of how the holidays are expected to be about family and closeness and happy puppy rainbow harmony et cetera ad nauseum and all that, and isn't it all lovely and ho ho ho light a candle blah blah. Which also of course means that if yours isn't, meaning, if your family is, well, kind of fucked-up, you're also pretty much expected to shut up and swallow it so you're not harshing anyone else's happy family holiday buzz.

Yeah, well fuck that noise. Crap but I hate denial. Sunshine, truth, and openness are the way to healing, I have found over and over and over again. So.

My father was a miser; I believe I may have mentioned this a time or two. His OCPD need for control, as well as his OCPD focus on his own self meant that he had little concept that people other than himself (like his own children, say) had needs. And if he did occasionally have a little concept that they might in fact have needs (usually yelled into him by my mother), he could only assume that those needs were just like his own. This is a little tricky to navigate, you understand; because although I know that this inability was due to something he could not at all help, his personality disorder, I also know that it made things, well, hellish and impossible for the rest of us. So on the one hand there is: he couldn't help it. And on the other: it did incalculable damage to the people around him.

Perhaps I simply need to put it in a little bit of perspective. Perhaps, also, there is the sort of general opinion of hoarding as a harmless personality quirk. Hoarders are simply eccentric, right? Luckily I think that is finally changing, with the advent of TV shows like Hoarders, which, I reiterate, I have never seen, and it's just as well. I can't promise I wouldn't fire a bullet into the TV screen, Elvis-style.

But that perspective: I need to, I think, keep in mind that other personality disorders include Narcissistic Personality Disorder (though strict Freudian spelling says it ought to be 'Narcisstic', I mean, not that I'm a fan of Freud; the best description I've ever found for the man is simply 'dickhead,' as in, that was entirely what his brain was preoccupied with) and Antisocial Personality Disorder. And no one argues that these things can not be extremely harmful to the people around them, especially when one considers that Antisocial Personality Disordered people can include, say, serial killers.

Anyhow. So he was a miser. This affected plenty of things, of course, like keeping the house at a toasty 55 degrees in the winter, not wanting to spring for supplies for installing the water heater (which water heater someone actually gave him), the state of the yard, as he regularly brought stuff home from the dump (hey it was FREE!), and, and this is a big one, the food of the house.

Now, it doesn't help that my mother is, truly, the worst cook in the world; but even Mrs. Lovett would have been hard pressed to make a decent meal out of what my father thought adequate. It wasn't so much that he'd always buy the same cheap things, one green pepper, a pack of anemic-looking winter tomatoes, canned peas, a pack of chicken thighs, but that I swear they'd go food shopping and somehow come home with no food. I don't understand how this can be possible, even now.

I'm a freelance artist myself, which, alas, true to stereotype, is not exactly the most lucrative business in this society; and so I certainly know how to be frugal, and what it's like to not have the money to spend on much food in the first place. Still, though, I know how to shop for groceries, and to make the most of what I can afford. And so I've come to look rather askance at my parents' protests of But we can't afford it! from my childhood. I'm not sure I believe it, frankly. Like I've mentioned before, we were never on, say, food stamps or free lunches at school when I was a kid, and if we were that desperate that we couldn't afford heat, hot water, a decent amount of food, you know, the basics, don't you think we would have qualified? And so I suspect that simply no one could be bothered. That is damning, I know, and implicates my mother as well; but I don't see any other conclusion.

Of course I didn't know any of this at the time. But looking back on my childhood I see now that I really was an extremely thin kid; also, I recall that I had been treated for anemia several times over the years. This is undernourishment, no? Very probably.

So we didn't really have enough food. And so we certainly never had any fun food. We had ice cream once in a while, it's true; but that was because my father really loves the stuff and so in a way that was all about him. True, we did benefit from that a bit, which is good. But otherwise we only rarely had cookies, or fun stuff like that, and never candy, though my mother would always talk about how it was a bad thing to forbid children from having candy, because then when they grew up they would buy all the candy they never had and so get fat. Rank bullshit, that, by the way.

Somewhere in there, though, my father got in the habit of buying a weekly box of generic gingersnaps from the discount grocery store.

Okay. You have to understand a couple of things here. We didn't like gingersnaps, we kids; my father did. I believe part of his decision in buying them (beside the cheapness of the things) was that he figured no one would want them but him, and so he could have them all to himself. Well, he was mostly right. Truth be told, those gingersnaps were just awful. I can guess the recipe:

2 cups fine sawdust
1/2 cup molasses
Pinch ginger

Lay out a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet.

Mix all ingredients together, then drop by spoonfuls on the cookie sheet. Press flat with the bottom of a greased jar; then bake in a 200˚ oven for a couple of weeks to harden up. Store indefinitely.

They were break-your-teeth horrible.

They were also the only sweet thing in the goddamned house.

So my sister and I would eat them. Not out of any kind of joy, mind you, but because they were the only vaguely treatish thing there ever was, and we were desperate for something with some sugar in it. Because we were kids, you know?

And my father would complain, of course. He would say 'the mice' had been into his cookies; I assume at the time he thought he was being funny, but, you know, it's kind of nasty. First, that's saying that those are intended for him and him alone and we kids didn't deserve anything fun; also it compared us to vermin. So fuck you, dad, as usual.

But we ate them. It was all there was.

But back to the holidays. Guess what we got for Christmas that year?

That's right. One box each of those atrocious cheap gingersnaps from my dad, all wrapped up with a bow. I wanted to scream and rage and cry, and then kill him. But I didn't. Because there was no point. He obviously thought he was so clever. I'd say smug, almost, except I don't think he was really capable of that; that would require some inkling, some acknowledgment that what he was doing was really rotten, and he just couldn't see it. But I still hated him for it.

You know what we really would have liked? A package of fucking Ring Dings.

I know. How immeasurably sad.


Sid said...

Astounding holiday post. Your rage is palpable. emailing you shortly.

Vienne said...

Yes, you should be enraged. And not merely at your father; your mother enabled the shit out of the situation you had to grow up in. I don't know if she is still living or not, but be sure to allocate to her the appropriate portion of that rage.

Because as you know, you have to tell the truth to get free of such a situation, and part of the truth, unfortunately, is that your mother was not determined, strong, sane, whatever, enough to stand up for her children and face your father's Issues. It's very likely she had some Issues of her own; an unhealthy person is seldom able to stay married to a healthy one.

When I start to feel sorry myself over the rather awful childhood I endured, I read some of your posts. You are coping magnificently well with far more than I ever had to, and I salute you for it.

Rage on, sister. You gotta right to be furious.

Thalia said...

Wow, I didn't even consider this post all that ragey. Bitterly annoyed, perhaps, or resigned or a bit angry, maybe. But yeah, my concept of normal (meaning in this case my reaction) might be a bit off, eh?

But thank you for the validation. I'll take all of that I can get.

And yes my mother certainly has some Issues, capital I. Holy fuck. Including probably some miserliness of her own that I never really saw until my father was gone to the nursing home and his extreme ways were out of the picture. So I am in some ways only beginning to be able to see her part in it all, because his part was just so huge and obvious that everyone else looked sane in comparison. I don't get into it here too much since she is still alive, and living with me (she's 83; 84 next Saturday); also Tara may feel a bit differently and I don't really want to stir things up too much. It's hard enough as it is.

I don't know about 'enabling' though. In a couple of ways, I guess. First, she certainly spent a good deal of time yelling at my father to get up off his ass and do something; they argued all the time. I do see her defending us kids, a lot. She certainly didn't look the other way at my father's crap. The thing is, though, it made no difference at all. There was nothing she could have done to convince him of anything; there was no way she could have set it up, either by action or inaction, to make him face the consequences of his actions. Because he simply didn't care, and the things most people value (family, good standing in the community) meant absolutely nothing to him. Also, he held a good deal of power, financially (even though we were poor) and I don't know that say, leaving him and taking off with us kids was any kind of a viable alternative.

Which isn't to say I am not properly angry at her; I recognize that. Anger can be so healthy; even hate, honestly, can be, though most people think it's a no-no. But it is right, and correct, and healthy, to hate someone who has done you harm. That is just a form of self-love, you know?

I don't know; hoarding is so weird. I do think there are a lot of different types of it, and so I guess it depends on the underlying cause as to whether something can be changed, or how much the people around the hoarder are able to affect the hoarder's behavior; though I haven't heard of any successes either, even with those who don't seem to have such an extreme personality disorder causing it. I think they kind of just are impossible, hoarders.

And thank you for the compliment I guess on my coping skills. I think a willingness to dig, and a commitment to self-awareness is absolutely key. The only thing I've ever found to work is looking at this shit square and level, seeing it, naming it, and then talking about it openly and honestly.

Michele said...

This is such a powerful post. Reading your blog has an incredible impact on me (and I'm not a hoarder of relative of one, either).

And sorry in advance for sounding nasty, but I can't help wanting to stuff a box worth of gingersnaps down your father's throat.

Sending you e-ring-dings.

Sid said...

I contacted you privately, but also wanted to give a shout out it your comments, Thalia.

It made me laugh, clench my teeth in anger, and want to hug you and your sister.

Rage on indeed.

The Writing Goddess said...

Thalia... I am so sorry. (And don't hate me, but tonight I am going to bake ginger COOKIES which some confuse with ginger snaps but our are soft and chewey and wonderful.

Back on point. One of my son's g-f's lived with her dad & stepmom for a while - they had LOCKED cupboards where they kept the "good" peanut butter and cookies and such that the girl and her sister were not allowed to eat. And I, too, had underfeeding and overfeeding issues with Dady Dearest (mine's a NPD) which I will post about sometime next week, I think, and which have contributed to my continuing problems having a healthy relationship with food.

Whether your mom was an Enabler, or whether she was just so beaten down and exhausted by fighting your dad on other levels (been there, done that), what happened to you girls wasn't right. You deserve to get good and angry with the way little Thalia and little Tara were treated. Give them a hug from me.

Amy said...

I just want to thank you for this blog. My husband has some mild hoarding tendencies thanks to his parents. One is a hoarder, one a miserly jerk- between the two of them his childhood was much like your own. I can't get into details because it makes me too angry.

Since we moved in together a few years ago, I have had to slowly train my husband out of behaviors like storing giant musty boxes full of dirty socks, important papers, old cords, fast food wrappers, etc. in places like our bedroom. At first it annoyed me, but then I grew to understand that he had never learned to discern trash from treasure, nor how to organize or store legitimately valuable things. It is a sad legacy, one I am trying my best to help him with. I shudder to think of the day when his parents pass and we have to deal with their home and collection of storage units. On the bright side, all it takes is a skeptical look from me when I hear the dreaded "but it's still GOOD," and he will sheepishly laugh and throw it away.

Anyway, you gals are fighting the good fight against the monster without AND the monster within, and I for one am rooting for you.

Sidney said...

This is STILL a breath-taking post, Thalia. My face is turning blue...