Journey to Fulfillment
The Building Blocks
Forrest Gump’s mother likened life to a box of chocolates.A more appropriate analogy may be life is like
a potluck dinner. Everyone brings what they have to the table. No one can be expected to bring something
they don’t possess. Likewise, parents bring what they have to give to their children. Most everyone has issues with their parents’ skills and are careful not to repeat the mistakes. The majority of parents feel pretty smug about their parenting skills until their own children are grown. Although they have no children of their own, in their twenties the offspring begin to share their vast knowledge with the parents, careful to point out
each parenting mistake made during their childhood.It is not until the cycle of life is complete that these
enlightened ones learn that they made just as many mistakes with their children as did their own parents.
Being sixteen and nineteen years of age at the time of my birth, my parents had little to bring to the tableTheir ages alone were enough of a stumbling block. My dad’s mother was fond of telling the story of how he rocked me to sleep by moving my cradle back and forth with his foot as he sat reading a comic book. My dad liked to tell the story of my mother getting angry with him and going for a walk. This sounded like a good plan, but she would walk until she was no longer angry and unfortunately too tired to walk back home. She would call the house, and he would go get her. They were typical teenagers trying to survive in an adult world.
My parents were born during the depression and grew up amidst World War II. Both dropped out of school in the tenth grade and both lacked parental
guidance as children. They too determined not to make the same mistakes their parents had made. My mother’s parents were alcoholics. Research
shows that scars last a lifetime for children of alcoholics. Even as adults, children of alcoholics have difficulty trusting others.
Janet G. Woititz, author of
Adult Children of Alcoholics, writes of thirteen characteristics of adult children of alcoholics:
1. Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is.
2. Adult children of alcoholics have diffi culty following a project through from beginning to end.
3. Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
4. Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
5. Adult children of alcoholics have diffi culty having fun.
6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
7. Adult children of alcoholics have diffi culty with intimate relationships.
8. Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.
9. Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
10. Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different from other people.
11. Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.
12. Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
My mother possessed twelve of these characteristics. She has recently attended meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics. With the counseling and literature provided by the organization, she has made progress and works diligently to change her self-destructive behavior. As a child, my mother remembers being sent to the movies on Saturday morning and returning to find broken beer bottles littering the fl oor. She knew that her parents had been fighting. When she was about seven years old, her dad left the family, and she did not see or hear from him again until she was forty-one years old. At that time, her youngest sister was working evenings as a telephone operator. When she was not busy, she used the time to search for their dad. He
had made no effort to get in touch with the family. My grandmother had raised the fi ve children alone during war times. She worked six days a week. On Sunday, she sent the children to church, cleaned the house, and cooked a large dinner. During the week while she worked, the children did chores around the house after school. As a single mother, my grandmother had little time for reading stories to the children or being involved in their education. It took all her effort just to feed them. Thus my mother and her siblings grew up with little emotional support.
Similarly my father grew up with very little supervision from his parents. His father was employed by the railroad, which required him to work different shifts. His schedule was eight hours on the job, then off for twenty-four hours and this daunting schedule never waivered. The cycle meant that if he worked during the day on Monday, he worked evenings on Tuesday, and the graveyard shift on Wednesday. He was often working when the children were not in school. My grandfather was considerably older than my grandmother. The difference in age led to incompatible value systems. Even in today’s world, my father’s mother would be considered a wild woman. She liked the bars and saw no problem with leaving the children unattended
while she visited her hangouts. Stories are told of her being gone for two or three days at a time. My grandfather would care for the children and work his job. Eventually someone would go by the house and tell him where to fi nd his wife, and he would go get her. The episodes could have been considered the modern day story of Gomer and Hosea from the Bible.
The work schedule of my dad’s father and habits of his mother provided no structure or stability in the home for the children. As a teenager with a wonderful sense of humor but no discipline, my father wreaked havoc in the neighborhood and at school. The old song sang, “Charlie Brown, he’s a clown.” My dad was the class and neighborhood clown. While very entertaining for the children, it was nerve wracking for the adults, including his teachers. A well-endowed teacher who favored wearing her skirts too tight was one recipient of his blarney. As this teacher wrote on the chalkboard,
she bent over at the hips stretching her tight skirt over her shapely behind in front of a classroom of teenage boys. After enjoying the scenery for weeks, my dad took a handkerchief to class. As she bent over to write at the bottom of the chalkboard, my dad ripped the handkerchief. She quickly stood up, covered her derriere with her hands, and backed out of the class. When she discovered there was nothing wrong with her skirt, she returned to class; and without a word, grabbed my dad by his shirt collar; and dragged him to the principal’s office.