When you are very young, say up to the age of 7, or maybe 10 if you are lucky, your parents are perfect. Your Dad tells the funniest jokes and is definitely the strongest Dad in the neighbourhood, maybe even the world. Your Mum smells the loveliest and gives the best hugs. They can do no wrong.
But in the space of just three to five years all that changes – turns upside down even. In hardly no time at all the jokes become very embarrassing and they begin to display awkward personal habits which are at their worst when your friends are about. Also your parents start to make unreasonable rules which inhibit your lifestyle and make you yearn for the day you can be own boss. In some cases parents may become so hateful that you try and run away before they consider you old enough to cope on your own. Your life sucks and it’s all their fault. You may even wish to die.
Once those strange and turbulent years have passed and you have left home, the next parental phenomenon that occurs is that they seem to develop some peculiar world views and ideas. Their politics are at times questionable, they may even adopt a different religion to your own. Conversation during home visits vacillate between contention and superficiality. You begin to wonder who these people really are and did they in fact adopt you?
It takes a few more years though and perhaps you settle down with a life partner, you may even become a parent yourself. This is when you decide all those mistakes your parents made on you will never be made again. You are the potter and this little ball of clay will be moulded by the hands of it’s new and wonderfully competent parents. However, not before long do you recognise some of the strokes in the moulding. There are echoes here of what has gone before. Some of it is good but some are those things you had hoped to do differently.
Strangely though, the old folks start saying the occasional sensible thing again. Although they may have different opinions to you a lot of the time, they do every now and then start saying stuff that rings true. There are snatches of conversation here and there where you glimpse the true personhood of your parents. They are not the same parents you had when you were young. They seem more fragile in some ways and stronger in others. You think you are beginning to understand them and slowly your relationship may develop a friendship aspect you didn’t think possible before.
One surprising day you might wake up and notice that your parents struggle to walk. You recall when you used to be the one who had to keep catching up when out shopping or striding the parklands but now you have to take on a leisurely pace so that you don’t leave them behind. They can’t get out of the car without a stick. And then one of your parents may not be with you any longer. Illness or accident has taken them away and there are no more opportunities to grow your relationship. You miss them with the tears of the little child you used to be. You’d like to ask them how they did it, this adult and parenting thing that you now struggle with, what would they tell you in order that you could carry on and do the same.
Isn’t it mysterious the way they keep changing like that? Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if they had just remained constant all that time? Then you would have understood them and known them and not have any regrets that you didn’t ask them before it was too late.