How is it that the only time I become self-conscious about wearing a hat is when my father’s around? It makes no sense. I’ve been wearing suits, whenever I leave the house, for years, and hats—German Mayser fedoras—since last autumn. It’s the kind of outfit that makes me comfortable. And yet whenever my father is around, I am suddenly transported 25 years into the past, and I feel like a small boy caught wearing adult clothes.
The hat is already on my head, so it’s too late to back down; I need to plunge on as if nothing’s wrong. But of course it is: My father’s glance to the top of my head, his half-open mouth; I can only imagine that the next thing he’s about to say will be something like, “Why are you dressing up as someone you’re not?”
Whatever could I answer to a question like that? Give him a childish duh followed by some exasperated silence—a staple argument in any discussion when you’re fourteen—and only a step up from blowing a raspberry and running.
And it’s not only the hat. The hat is merely a symbol of some deep-rooted feeling of being deconstructed to a baser, much younger version of yourself. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
When you’re not around them, you happily lose yourself in building this person you want to be, surround yourself with people who see you in a certain way, and friends that love you no matter what, but when you’re back home or when your parents come to visit, suddenly you’re back being a ten-year-old boy or girl, socially awkward, undisciplined, and as un-adultish as it is humanly possible. And you want your parents to see the person you’ve become, and say that they’re proud, but they usually don’t, and so you start shedding your experience of life and adulthood like a lizard shedding its skin before mating season, to be shiny and colorful and likable again. Forget about achievements, life’s choices, personal triumphs, and disasters that made you you, all you want to be is to be accepted by mum and dad. The one thing that may never happen, because they liked you better when you drooled and listened to what they said.
This form of deconstruction is utterly ridiculous, and yet I’ve never met an adult who didn’t experience it in some strong way. Boys usually have a thing about their fathers, girls, their mothers, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it had more to do with the stronger emotional bond than gender. But what do I know, I’m no psychologist, I only rummage in people’s heads.
If you pause and open your eyes, you’ll notice that your parents feel the same way towards their parents. And it is as uncomfortable to watch as it is to experience.
This is all well and good, but you might wonder what does it have to do with writing or creativity? A lot. Because most people opt for lives and careers that happen out of their parents’ sight. Otherwise—
“Oh, Robert, he’s so smart with PowerPoint. Show them, Rob!” I imagine some plump woman bragging to a circle of friends.
“Mum, I’m the chief financial officer at a pharmaceutical company. It’s confidential data.”
“He’s so serious about his little job, isn’t he? And doesn’t he look gorgeous in that suit and tie? Just like his dad.”
I can’t blame Robert for not inviting Mother to zoom conferences with his leadership team.
Robert’s lucky because he doesn’t have to do his job with his parents standing over his shoulder. Most writers and creatives, on the other hand, are not so lucky. We have parents who give a shit and want to see our work. We’re blessed and cursed at the same time. Blessed to have support. Cursed by life under a constant threat of losing pure motherly love and being disowned because of something you’ve written. It’s the source of that little voice in your head that tells you to hold off even when you have something to say.
What are you supposed to do? Wait for your relatives to die off one by one before you can really—really, this time—be you?
I know for a fact that my parents are going to read this. And there’s a part of me that, like a lizard caught by the tail, or a boy caught wearing his father’s hat wants to ditch the tail, ditch the hat and run, saying it wasn’t me, and that I didn’t mean it.
But I do mean it.
It’s silly and undignified, but it is one of the challenges of putting your work out there.
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