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A human life is so complicated; it's hard to capture in words. It's even harder if their histories are lost.

My mom wanted to be a writer but never felt confident that she should even try, so she encouraged me. Unfailingly, she encouraged me. I wish, though, that she had written her own stories. She's been gone now for over a decade, and there are little half-remembered flitters and shadows of her stories in my mind, and there is absolutely nobody I can talk to or consult to put the missing pieces together.

***

I've been thinking more about my mother this morning. Her father Henry died at the age of 21 when her teenaged mother Aileen was pregnant. Aileen, who had been orphaned a few years before when her father shot her mother and then himself, gave my infant mother to Henry's mother and sister to raise. This was right at the start of the Great Depression.

My mother loved her family with all her heart but based on the stories she told, they treated her fairly poorly. Times were hard for everyone, but she was not a priority for them. They made sure that she knew that she owed them. And, based on the people I've met, many of Henry's relatives were the worst sorts of Muggles. I'm not really sure how that lot could raise a lovely, intelligent, good-hearted person like her, but they did.

She suffered a great deal because she didn't have a father to raise her and protect her.

My grandfather Lee abandoned my father and his mother either while she was pregnant or shortly after he was born. And my father suffered even more than my mother did; he got shuttled from house to house and had to fend for himself at an extremely young age. By all reports, his grandmother was a great lady, and she raised him for several years. His mother, though highly intelligent and a skilled nurse, was a partier who didn't have a lot patience for raising a child. She was married and divorced four times, and none of those men were plausible father figures. My father spent a big chunk of his teen years hunting down his stepfather Conrad in whatever bar he was passed out in, dragging him to the car, and bringing him home.

(Tangent: I give a huge side-eye any time someone starts talking about how much more moral and upstanding American society was back in the 1930s - 1950s, because family stories -- the kind they tell you when you're an adult -- do not support that at all. People were awful to each other back then.)

Growing up without a father was one of the things my mother and father bonded over. My mother firmly believed that *any* father, even a flawed one, was better than none. She had solid reasons for believing this.

However. If you stay with an abusive person, that's going to model abuse and normalize it for your kids. Inevitably. Doesn't matter how smart and insightful your kids are; some of that is going to stick as bad life lessons. If your spouse hits you and you just roll with it, or excuse it, that's showing your kids that being physically violent towards loved ones is acceptable behavior. If you stay married to a narcissist or sociopath, your kids are going to grow up thinking that narcissistic and sociopathic behavior is pretty normal. It's going to lessen their own ability to make good relationship choices because terrible choices seem familiar to them.

I knew that my father's behavior was unacceptable. But I didn't fully understand the extent of it until I was in my 30s when I happened upon an article about narcissistic personality disorder, and things started to fall back into place. And I looked back on my own dating history, and sure enough: I'd dated my share of narcissists in my 20s. Not for long, thank goodness, but this happened despite my determination to avoid anybody who would treat me like my father treated my mom. I just couldn't see the signs because they seemed so normal to me.

The worst, for me, were the terrible lessons about how to handle relationships and relationship conflict. I had to unlearn a whole lot of bad stuff, and all that is a work in progress.

 

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