Inheritance

Correct me if I’m wrong. But isn’t there something scary about waking up one morning, looking in the mirror, and seeing your parents looking at you in the mirror? My vaunted independence from my family felt threatened by the view. 

But, of course, your reaction may depend upon your relationship with the parent. A face you’ve dreaded is not the same thing as one that’s beloved.

It wasn’t as though I had turned into a digitally duplicated image of my dad or mother, but the resemblances were undoubtedly there. I was probably thirty, and my father had only died a year or two before. The entire mirror thing was a bit disquieting because my parents and I had an intense love/hate thing going until about a year before my dad died. While we had resolved most of our “issues,” things were still in the process of settling down.

The turning point in our relationships began to show when I moved on from evening classes at Boston University’s Metropolitan College and matriculated as a degree candidate in anthropology. The entire family took note that I would be the first college grad since my grandfather. My father especially became a steadfast supporter. He seemed to realize that moving from being a high school dropout to a college graduate in a single bounding step was a fearless move. Interesting term fearless; it implies that you are without fear. It doesn’t mean that you are without trepidation, or uncertainty, only without fear. My father understood these distinctions. He had a ninth-grade education, went to sea, and successfully rose in the ranks of marine engineering. Accepting challenges fearlessly was something he knew.

So that morning, I saw my ability to challenge the world. But, unfortunately, I also saw all the control issues that had made our relationships fraught with antagonism. So I had to repeat to myself the little mantra I had used over the years – “you are not your parents.” And I wasn’t any more than any of us are our parents.

I had friends who were eager for that moment when they saw mother or father in the mirror. It was all they ever wanted. Not me. I didn’t want my mother’s cold rages or my father’s hot anger. But somewhere along the way, I had done as so many generations have done and selected traits I did want or admired and incorporated them into myself:

  • A love of the sea and fine craft from my farther
  • from my mother the love of literature and learning.

So I began to accept the person I had created and who had an entire inheritance from his family.