Interview with Todd from Tulsa: “a mix of fun and hell”

In these interviews, it’s been refreshing to see the honesty that’s laid out on the table.  Here, genuine interest and willingness to discuss ideas are missing in the relationship Todd’s parents had with him.  He’s working hard to be an improvement on that for his kids.

What’s your age?

38

Are both of your parents living? 

My father died a few years ago.

What was their marital status?

Divorced

How many siblings do you have?

Four brothers: two step, one half, one full.

How often do you see your parents? 

Every other month

What are some of the ways you spend time together?

I see Mom (and stepfather) inside the context of family visits, particularly her visiting my children or attending one of their events.  Or, they come over for a meal on the weekend.

As a kid, I had a mix of fun and hell with my dad and stepmom because I never knew what to expect. Was someone going to yell at me?  Did I show up and have to do chores that I didn’t have to do at home?  I learned a lot; I owe it to my dad that I can tinker with things.  Some of the other things I learned was a love for the outdoors, camping, fishing. I enjoyed fishing; I don’t now because I’m not very good at it, but I’m glad I learned to do it.  Same with hunting.  As an adult, I didn’t spend a lot of time with my dad.  When he was alive, he may have come to the house for dinner and he may have attended an event for the kids.  I played golf with him two or three times.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you enjoy your father’s company? 

Dad, a 5.  I didn’t have a lot in common with him.  He was a dirty old man in a lot of ways and I found his behavior embarrassing.  His behavior and mine were so different, I wasn’t sure how we could look related.  We valued different things. He didn’t care what other people thought.

Mom, a 4.  She has become more and more opinionated and a stick in the mud.  She’s boring.  The extent of her visits are her interjecting her opinions about stuff.  Theology, politics.  The last three or four years, she doesn’t know what to do with me because I’ve “gone off the deep end.” I don’t share her opinions.  I went from being the golden kid to the one who has flown the coup.  Since that has happened, there is this unspoken distance.  I don’t always feel that way, but I often do.

Does spending time with them together affect the dynamic of the visit? 

My stepfather can get the same way that she does, but sometimes he makes the visits more pleasurable.

What are some of the positive aspects of your relationship with them? 

With Dad, a love of the outdoors, a strong work ethic, problem solving skills, being able to know about a lot of things, fix things about the house.  He gave me a sense of humor.  He liked to charm people.

I’m thankful for how Mom brought me up in the church with a certain set of values.  I have a deep respect for her for doing all she could for two boys by herself.  She had many opportunities to bad-mouth my father, but she didn’t.  She also cared for my father’s mother (her former mother-in-law) in spite of what people were saying about her.  She’s had to deal with some pretty crappy stuff in her life that were more or less not her fault.  It’s commendable.

What about the negative?

Dad did whatever the hell he wanted, and I think that led to my mom being single with two kids. I think he was selfish and he missed out on what could have been a stronger relationship with his grandchildren.

Mom is too opinionated.  She cannot leave room for other ideas or points of view.  It creates a lot of turmoil for her.  She doesn’t know what to do with it and then that creates a stress in the relationship.  For example, when I transferred my minisitrial standing to another denomination, she did not attend the service that recognized that transfer.

Honestly, which is weightier? 

With dad, it’s the negative.  With Mom, the positive.

If the relationship is positive, what are one or two of the most important aspects of their parenting that contributed to a healthy relationship?

That she was an adult. She did the things that she should have done as a mother. She was responsible, caring, loving, and teaching.

If the relationship is negative, what are one or two of the most important factors that contributed to a fractured relationship?  

He was just selfish in my estimation.  He was very guarded, too.  When I make the kids do something that they don’t want to do, I explain why.  He demanded respect, he didn’t earn it.  What he got was fear disguised as respect.  With his demand for respect, it did me a disservice because I never learned how to challenge authority until an adult.

What do you wish they had done differently?

I wish my mom had not been as strict with me because I was a good kid.  If you make something taboo, it just makes that thing more appealing.  I wish I’d been exposed to other things, other ideas, other points of view.  For instance, when I was 18, I drove downtown to take a lifeguarding class.  I drove past a beautiful church and realized I’d never seen kids from that church at church camp.  She told me it was a different kind of church and gave a derogatory and dismissing comment about it. I remember that incident and I would have benefited from being exposed to other ideas. My upbringing was pretty sheltered.

I wish my dad had been more open about himself and more supportive.  I played soccer for four years in college and he only came to two games.  We had 18 games per season.  That was shitty.  While I was going to college, he was going to an arthritis specialist two miles from my campus on the same dang road.  He never called to suggest we meet for lunch when he would go his appointments.

How well do you relate to your siblings?

Not very well.  I often feel like the black sheep.  I don’t even know what to do with my brothers.  I’m the only one who went to college.  I don’t know how to relate to them and they probably don’t know how to relate to me.

Do they share your same reflections?

My full brother would probably share same thoughts about our dad and some about my mom.

My other half brother has a very high respect for my dad, but his relationship was so much different.  He lived with him, and he came later in my dad’s life.  My dad relaxed a bit with that son.

Can you share an example of a defining moment with your parents?

I was in third or fourth grade and faked being sick because I thought my mom would stay home with me.  She got everything ready for me that I needed, but then she went to work.  What I really wanted was to spend time with her.  I realized that I was all alone.

Once, when my dad actually did come to one of my soccer games, he sent my brother down to see if I was going into the game (I wasn’t starting).  It’s like he was checking to see if it were worth coming to at all.  I thought, “You son of a bitch.”  For whatever reason, I didn’t start in this game, but had started the last three games.  If he had been there, he would have seen that.  That’s a shitty father.  That’s not supportive, that’s selfish.

Has anything happened since then to change your relationship?

My dad has passed away.  I think in a lot of ways I have swung back around, due to  my own work and talking with counselors. One of the things I’m learning to do is be myself in spite of what others may think.  I think he would appreciate that.  He took that freedom too far, but for me it’s just the freedom and confidence to be myself.  I think we’d have a tighter bond now.

My transfer of ministerial standing has changed my relationship with my mom.  I don’t feel supported now.

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