Home > Slice of Life > Fragments of Memories (Part 2)

Fragments of Memories (Part 2)

In hindsight, living with my family as a child is probably a bad idea.

It had occurred to me out of nowhere one day (well, no, not out of nowhere, but it was a thought that extended from a conversation I had) that I cannot recall an instance where my parents ever tried to comfort me. Not “coddle”; there’s a difference, and my parents did neither. It’s difficult to spoil children when you’re willing to inflict corporal punishment on them with a cane (and then threaten them into silence by telling them stories about how U.S. social services in cosmopolitan America would take them away from their parents if they ever got a hint that there was corporal punishment going on). My experiences strongly factor into my view on corporal punishment – a view that many would say is biased and saturated with anger and bitterness, something I might agree with if I didn’t just happen to have plenty of professional psychological reports standing on my side – but this is not what this entry is about. It’s not about coddling or corporal punishment.

My family’s cynical in nature. This itself is not unusual, given the circumstances; my parents were both raised in one of the poorest eras in a poor region, living under a fairly totalitarian military government. Hell, my father worked for one of the organs of said government, which he outright compared to the Gestapo. What sticks with you as a child is unlikely to be overcome as an adult, so I suppose it also carried into who they were as parents and how they raised me thusly. When I said “I cannot recall an instance where my parents ever tried to comfort me”, I meant they never tried – or, at least, tried very hard – to allay my fears, ease my worries, convince me that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. In hindsight, I suppose the calm, almost flippant way in which they treated my attempts at hyperventilation indicated that the message of “making a mountain out of a molehill” was inherent to whatever they had to say, but whatever they did say stuck. And what they did say wasn’t terribly surprising: Specifically what I had done wrong, specifically how I did it wrong, and specifically how to avoid doing it next time.

This manifested in a lot of the things they managed to discourage me into doing whether that was their intention or not. I stopped even trying to send entries into sweepstakes and contests for the LEGO Magazine (leave a comment if you still remember those days) (or, really, most contests for that matter) when my father explained to me the math between the number of people who enter, the difference in skill, the number of winners who come out of it, and the fact that all of this costs money that wasn’t coming out of my pocket (I was five or six when this explanation was given to me). My mother never actually got to Asian-levels of obsessiveness when it came to my violin (which, believe it or not, I actually wanted to learn, and my parents never actually forced me into it or anything), and she was caring enough to listen whenever I asked her to and when she had the time, but her words of praise were nonexistent in favor for words of criticism, suggestions for improvement, and reminders of how much more I needed to practice if I wanted to get anywhere (which I appreciated nonetheless, but I wonder if it would’ve killed her to say a nice thing), and she disliked sympathy-fishing. When it came to inter-family arguments, we rarely ever “took sides”, so to speak; everyone was too busy pointing out all the stupid shit the rest of us did. Mind, my parents weren’t over-the-top depressing, nor were they lacking in sympathy and love. They’re just not the type of people you want to look for a hug or a pat on the shoulder or comfort that they don’t believe in (and maybe the things they believe in as well).

Unsurprisingly, there is a remarkable lack of optimism in the family psyche. I’m not trying to paint my family in a highly negative light, because – believe it or not – we do love each other, and families have split up over more trivial issues, but I still don’t think we’re a great bunch to hang out with when no one else is looking. My father’s probably the most optimistic one (which, frankly, isn’t saying much), and there’s probably something wrong with the picture of the man in a family who once worked for a government organization “like the Gestapo” being the most optimistic out of his family. My father (along with the rest of my family, but I think it’s him and myself that are the worst offenders of this) has much contempt and little patience towards “naivety”, and was the one who told me to never take part in strikes, marches, or demonstrations, because “that’s painting a target on your back”, and “only the foolish think they can change anything by just marching out on the streets without causing trouble”. My mother cares little about trying to change or better anyone but herself and maybe her immediate family (and even then, she classifies it as a losing battle and a lost effort), and is contemptuous of feminism not because of its ideals, but because she finds it naive that people can force change ahead of its time; in hindsight, I suppose that’s why she took to Buddhism so well. My brother, seventeen-going-eighteen, may or may not be adopting cynicism because it’s “cool” and “mature”, but I doubt it, and the frequency in which “quit being naive” comes out of his mouth isn’t particularly encouraging.

I’m twenty-two now, and I’ll turn twenty-three in precisely twenty days. I would be nice if I could say that I’m different from my family, but that’d be a lie. To my credit, sympathy’s never too far from my mind, but my mind never lingers too far from realism, from what could go wrong, from what’s likely to go wrong. It’s not the best mentality to take, I know. A friend pointed out (which is something I already knew, but I’ll give him credit anyways) that I live in one of the best centuries in human history. I live better than 99% of the world. Hell, in my opinion, I live better than a great number of my peers. But it’s still strangely difficult to be optimistic, to think things will go well when chances are they won’t. A combination of my parents and life experiences – two decades saturated with disappointments and let-downs possibly incurred by what may or may not be lofty ideals and unrealistic expectations – has made that difficult.

But, then again, one can define optimism as precisely that: Lofty ideals and unrealistic expectations. It’s a pity that aftershock is fairly harsh. I’d define myself more as “pragmatic” and “realistic” than “cynical” and “pessimist”. But I wonder if I’m trying to fool others, or just myself.

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Categories: Slice of Life
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