I’ve always had empathy for mom. Two infants 16 months apart. One of them is cranky with no daycare willing to take her on, never happy, constantly screaming. I know this because mom expressed countless times how thankful she was that I had the gift of keeping myself entertained (which left me neglected, but that’s for another day).
I’ve only recently started to understand my dad’s life. He was a very young professor who eventually developed the obscure, specialised college into an internationally-recognised research centre because of his devotion to his grad students and to bringing in big and continual funding not only to support the projects but to equip the lab and keep it modern (science people, you know how difficult the latter is!).
It was extremely stressful for him to know 14 students’ and his lab’s futures were on his ability to bring in money. He left home at 7 am and came home at 8 pm. He sometimes took things, like rice cookers, from our home to give to his students who can’t afford the basics.
What we saw was a father that expected a hot breakfast of fish and miso soup even when everyone else was eating eggs and toast. A man who demanded packed lunch. A dictator who did not tolerate being disturbed when he got home and zonked out in front of the TV in the basement.
My mother suffered from depression, so a lot of the impact of his choices fell on me.
I’d get up at 5 am and shovel the heavy snow or train, cook breakfast and pack Japanese-style 6-item colourful and nutritious lunches, clean the dishes and wipe down everything. Get all A+’s in school. Serve in student council, win a medal at track and field match. Come home and wax the floor, scrum the bathroom, or wash the windows. Run the washing machine. Hang up laundry. Make dinner. Clean dishes. Draw a bath for Dad. Now I get to go upstairs and read a book, but at any point dad might yell my name because one of the other children forgot their chores, knowing dad won’t yell their names. I was 13.
I didn’t learn to make friends and cultivate friendships. I was prone to bullying because I didn’t know any better than being ordered around. I didn’t know how to claim a spot and stand in it. My sister would beat me, bruise me, and cut me every day, and no one came to my rescue.
I didn’t know to be angry at my parents. I knew my dad had a very important job that he was respected for. But it certainly didn’t help me see him as a father.
What we didn’t see was a young man who didn’t have any energy for any adventures like toast. A research head who didn’t have time to go buy lunch. A father who was fighting a big battle on his own at work to secure a future for his young family and fighting a desperate battle at home on his own to give himself what he needed to survive as a person.