Questionable Parenting

I’ve thought about what my children will be like in the future, and I anticipate… well… that they will be little assholes. And I love it. I’ve imagined that I will train them like little animals to do things and say things that will make them irresistible to the public. I’ll pull them out at parties and make them tell jokes to guests before ushering them back to their room to stay until I need them again. At least they’ll know that they have a purpose, which I think is important to children. I can’t begin to explain how important those first years of life are, especially now that I’m older because the things that my parents told and did to me really helped shape me into the driven, anxious, neurotic person that I am today. Actually, I think my parents did a lot of stuff just for entertainment sake, and now I’m hands down one of the most complex, potentially screwed up people that I know.
That’s not to say they didn’t love me though–I could be one of those kids who didn’t get hugged as a child, and let’s be honest, that’s the not fun kind of screwed up. I’m not afraid of affectionate touch or base-level commitment. I’m just generally afraid of any kind of sexual interaction, the concept of aging, and a general distrust of doing favors for other people. Other than that, I’m pretty solid on the up and up, which considering what kind of money my friends are going to make for future therapists, I consider that a success. But that doesn’t change the fact that my parents lied to me: actually, my parents lied to me a lot… and Wendell and Kathy, if you’re reading this, I want you to know I know. I also want you to know that I know you know I know. This isn’t for us: this is so everyone else knows.
I’m sure it all started with the best of intentions, as most habits do. When my mamaw died when I was six, I was terrified of death and the prospect of people whom I loved meeting their maker. I also really excelled at English as a child, not so much math. So when my mom’s birthday came around, she told me that she was 32. And then the next year, she told me that she was 32 again. She continued to tell me she was 32 until I was eleven years old; eventually, I put the pieces together and come to realize that I had ultimately been lied to over and over. My mom instantly went from being 32 to 38, and though I guess I understood the sentiment behind it, all of a sudden, I had missed out on six years of my mom’s life. Kathy had been steadily aging after all, and it was devastating because I wasn’t really there for any of it. I was living all “my mom is consistently 32,” when in actuality, she was getting older and older just like me.
But most of my mom’s lies were to protect me, and in the grand scheme of things, I guess that makes sense. Mothers are supposed to do that, especially with their sons. Fathers, on the other hand, I have no idea what the hell they’re supposed to be doing. No lie that my dad ever told me was anything but some kind of weird thing that he had made up in his head to terrify me. From the time I was little, he would pick up animals that he had killed and told me they had come back to life, and if the animal was small enough, he’d pick the entire thing up and come after me with it. And in all fairness, it’s not like no one got enjoyment out of it–he loved it. But then there’s me, thinking that all of these animals were just chilling out underneath my bed gunning for me in the middle of the night. That’s why I started trying to make friends with all the animals, as written about in: Wendell Shot All My Friends.
As scarring as all the lies may have been, I think the problem was that my parents never teamed up to discuss what lies they were telling me. My dad sat me down one day as just a wee little child and explained to me about what puberty was. He told me that eventually, my penis would begin to grow and it would grow all the way down to my ankle; that’s the reason that all men wear pants. Being the cunning child I was, I asked him about the men I had seen wearing shorts before, and he told me, “That’s when you have to wrap it around your leg, and it hurts. A lot.” And his logic had me for a while. I would go and check my penis every day to make sure the process hadn’t started. I liked shorts. I didn’t want to give them up. But a couple months later, my mom told me that if I ever had sex before I was forty, my penis would actually fall off. Again, I think she did that to scare me/protect me, but what she didn’t realize is that she had given me a solution–not a threat. All I had to do was figure out what sex was, do it once, then boom: I could wear shorts all the time.
Eventually, I found out that both of my parents were lying: sex didn’t make it fall off and as much as my guy friends like to believe that their… stuff… may be down to their ankle, I haven’t met anyone who can prove such a claim. The lies continued for most of my childhood, and I began to be able to distinguish what the truth was, what things my parents would say just to protect me, and what my dad just wanted me to believe so that he could be entertained. But the one thing I never really got the hang of is the idea of lying by omission. One day when I was visiting from college, my mom was walking out the door, and I asked her where she was going. She said, “Oh, just down to the gas station. Be right back.” I chased her out the door and said, “I’ll go with you! I’ll grab my keys.” She responded, “Don’t worry about it! I’ll be right back.” It didn’t make sense because my mom hates being alone as much as I do, so something wasn’t adding up. After a little more banter, I forced myself into the situation, and we were heading down the road.
My mom told me to turn behind this sketchy bar, and I said, “This isn’t the gas station.” She said, “Yeah, I know. I didn’t want to tell you. We’re picking up your dad’s moonshine.” Sweet. Illegal alcohol transactions are my favorite. So I pulled into this gravel driveway leading to this yellow painted cinderblock wall with a very shady looking back porch. A woman came out of the back with cutoff jean shorts and not a single tooth in her head. She said, “Pahp ya trunk,” and placed a cardboard box into the back. She came up to my window and said, “Ya daddy’s already paid,” and smiled a toothless grin that closed her eyes. At this point, I felt like all decorum was out the window, so I turned to my mom and said, “Why the hell did you not tell me we were coming to pick up moonshine? I feel like that’s something you tell someone before I pull into Popcorn Sutton’s house.” She said, “That’s why I was trying to get out of there by myself. Some things are just better left unsaid, Justin.”
And I guess she’s right. The older I’ve gotten, I’ve come to terms with the fact that some things are better left unsaid, and sure… my parents did some weird stuff to me and Casey as kids. The lies were absolutely absurd sometimes, but in the end, I think they were trying to protect us from a lot of the potential negatives of life… kind of like when we asked why our neighbors had named their German Shepherds Hydro and Codone and my dad said, “Oh that’s a seventies band.” I guess that we got away from childhood pretty clean and relatively unharmed, especially in comparison to some of our other peers. And you know, I’m not going to act like I’m not excited about doing the same things to my kids.


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