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June 1, 2015 | by  | in Features |
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Under the Influence of Unsung Heroes

I’d like to take a brief moment to offer a massive shout-out to all the parents in the place with style and grace, whether “regular” or “step-” or otherwise. Even in practical terms the responsibility is daunting.

Sleepless nights spent tending to mewling, projectile-shitting devilspawn. Dealing with terrible twos and terrible teens (Mother, Father: I’m So Sorry). The immense financial encumbrance (the average cost of rearing a child to the age of 21 in New Zealand averages a cool $400,000). Readers who haven’t borne offspring or sired heirs, take a moment of silence and bow your heads to reflect on the countless folk who’ve watched previous hopes and dreams and autonomy get interred without hope of resurrection for eighteen years.

This doesn’t even cover the emotional toll, the unimaginable worry, the surge of joy and anxiety and confusion that must surely attend loving wholeheartedly, unconditionally, someone who will always, to you, be so vulnerable.

Parenting is not a walk in the park—indeed, the only time many new parents will get a chance to traipse through some public gardens is to try and use the motion to stop their child from wailing. A couple of centuries ago it all got a cunt-load harder when Freud and his attendant psychologists came along the scene and ascribed a host of character flaws to bad parenting—or more specifically, bad mothering.

Today, Freud’s psychological teachings are massively out of fashion, presumably after someone noticed that his surname is literally one letter away from being Fraud. He’s also unfashionable because, with Freudian Psychology, you just can’t fuckin’ win: if you’re obsessed with detail, it’s because your Mum was too controlling. If you’re wild and explosive and spontaneous, it’s because you Mum let you shit where you like and didn’t reprimand you enough. Searching JSTOR for “Freud woman behaviour towards man” will yield two main articles: one insisting that women who are wary of men are so because of a distant father, and one insisting that women who are “destructively promiscuous” (fukk off m8) are so because of that same distant father. Not quite an exact science then.

But psychology and sociology have confirmed some of his inklings. How your parents behaved, even before you were a twinkle in the milkman’s eye, will influence how you turn out. As the lines from Philip Larkin’s famous poem go: “They fuck you up, your Mum and your Dad / They may not mean to but they do / they fill you with the faults they had / and add some extra, just for you.”

The extent to which this extends is extraordinary; scientists have demonstrated that certain behavioural patterns recode your DNA, which gets passed on during procreational intercourse. Your biological parents could have successfully quit smoking decades before they bore you, for example, but the imprint remains.

Of course parenthood doesn’t and shouldn’t entail biological connection, but that doesn’t elide your responsibility, nosirree. Studies have continuously shown that “good parenting” is about twice as important to a child as “even the best schooling”.

If this bloate—I mean, umm, sprawling introduction has left you feeling like you know all this already, good only as fodder for the woodpulp, then be assured that that was the point. We all know how important parents are to our lives, the impact they had during our formative stages, how much we owe them. But what about the benign unsung influences? An eclectic host of influences conspired to make you who you are today, some good, some bad, some ambiguous, like that drug dealer who whispered “psst!” at you while you walked by their alleyway and offered you a tinny for $15 (hit up Egmont Street if that’s your—wait for it—BAG LOL). Kanye offered a toast to the douchebags, the arseholes and the scumbags; Imma offer a toast to the grandparents, exes, chance one-off encounters and celebs in our life instead. Let’s start with…

For My Grandparents

[N.B. I recognise that not all readers will have had relationships with their grandparents. Some of them may have passed away at an untimely time, and for this I offer my sincerest condolences; feel free to substitute “Grandparents” with “Great-aunts-and-uncles” or similar if you wish.]

I owe both sets of my grandparents a huge deal, in ways I hadn’t really considered until recently. In Western culture, and my personal experience, grandparents represent the comfort and closeness of family outside your immediate kin. This is especially true in youth. I have fond memories of having hot water bottles pressed to my feet while I giggled ecstatically, being gently taught about a number of esoteric interests (in my Paternal G-Pa’s case, literally birds and bees). You could cry in front of them and it was okay because they were your grandparents and you knew they loved you and they could make it better. Cast your mind back to the happiest memories of a serene youth, and I’ll bet your grandparents and their homely, impossibly warm house is involved somehow—not to mention their cooking (oh sweet Zeus the cooking).

Somewhere along the way things change. The relationship doesn’t deteriorate, exactly, but shifts into a weird place. Gaps start occurring. Talking one-on-one is harder. Differences in political and personal ideologies seem insurmountable. Somewhere along the way, many people feel as though they’ve lost that special relationship as they grow up.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I stayed with my Nan during a portion of a summer, during a tenure painting in Feilding. We got annoyed with each other, drove each other batty, occasionally even fought; but even while we were angry with each other, we were angry in the way that only family can be angry with each other, a kind of irritation underpinned by affection and love. There was rancour, sure, but there was also candour.

I want this anecdote to illustrate that, just as we come to accept our parents as complex individuals as we grow up, the same should extend to our grandparents. We are privy to sides of them that were either hidden or undetected during our halcyon youth. This gives us an opportunity to know them better and appreciate them all the more. I recognise now my maternal Nan’s wit, razor-sharp intelligence and formidable countenance (the retirement village she currently resides at expected a timid, acquiescent octogenarian. Suffice to say they have been redressed). My paternal Grandmother’s all-embracing, welcoming nature has been put in perspective as I’ve realised that not everyone would open their hearth and home to Mongrel Mob affiliates and travelling priests alike without batting an eyelid. With age comes appreciation of nuances and complexities of character. This can form a conduit to more beautifully personal relationships, and with the wealth of experience and advice they have to impart it’d be lunacy not to take advantage of it.

On a more morbid note, it’s often said that pets are useful for children in that it gives them experience with loss and grief. Most people’s grandparents die while they’re at an age where coping with loss, while no less hard, is contextualized through the prism of a late-teen or twenty-something experience. It is an awful thing to experience. I’m not sure if I’ve even fully processed the loss of my three absent grandparents. But it also gives us a chance to look at their death through their lives, their accomplishments and their narratives. In this way you can cherish them and their experiences more.

Love your grandparents while they live and venerate all the things about them that made you you in their death; it’s a cliche, but my Papa’s staunch intellectualism, my Grandma’s subtle and empathetic kindnesses and my Granddad’s intense fascination in niches—and, I admit, some of his more viceful habits—live on in me, the child they swaddled and loved from afar. Cue violins.

To The Exes

As a rule of thumb, I earnestly believe that you never truly know the measure of a man until you’ve spoken to his exes—and, more generally, that you can tell a great deal about someone from how well they get on with their ex-partners. Like all generalising pearls of wisdom, there are obviously exceptions to the rule, mainly relationships that were based on manipulation, coercion and abuse; and while the wounds of a recently-finished relationship are still sore and festering, asking someone to be “objective” about an ex is pretty much an act of cruelty.

But with time and distance comes, hopefully, wisdom, and with that wisdom comes the maturity to see your exes as they are; usually wonderfully people who were deserving of your attraction in the first place. Whether they were integral to your first, fumbling, sexual experiences, whether they were the ones you pined over while crying to American Football in the dark, or even if they were one of your “grown-up” relationships, maintaining cordial ties isn’t just pleasant and nice (the idea of friendship as a “consolation prize” is such BS), it’s logical—if you cared about them and enjoyed their company, why stop that just because the dynamics have shifted?

This one comes with the caveat that these relationships might not be “easy”, though they are profoundly fulfilling. But even if you don’t maintain contact, at least acknowledge their influence. What they taught you about intimacy and romance and bodies; how they made you feel and how you made them feel; about how it feels so feel so specifically close to one person. Look: just don’t be the dick that talks about your “crazy ex” or how bored you were or how they “fucked you over” because they broke up with you years later. Like it or not they helped shape the way you treat romantic and/or sexual relationships. Embrace it. But only if you’re in a good enough place! Boundaries y’all.

Random Chance Encounters

I, like approximately 99.99recurring per cent of every other person of the species, find it difficult to live in the world sometimes. It’s easy not to feel at home or maudlin, but even beyond that it’s so easy to just feel like you’re stuck in a rut of endless tedium and repetition with nothing but your own ideas for company.

But then you meet Them. Maybe it’s at a party, maybe it’s at a bus stop, maybe on a train. And you have the best, more enlivening conversation you’ve had in ages, and they offer you a new perspective and make you feel refreshed and good, suddenly hopeful about the goodness of humans and serendipity of life.

Here’s the thing: these conversations are entered into under the tacit understanding that this is a once-off, never to be repeated kind of deal. Most of these encounters will be the single interaction you have with this person in your entire life. The importance of these encounters may be immediately apparent, or only make sense as the gems they are in retrospect.

Regardless, these special, ineffable encounters make you feel like you do when you’ve read a good book, or watched a good film, and suddenly your life is infused with the texts and you walk around a world coloured by 50s noir tropes or quaint Victorian-Era country estate drama or whatever. They’re a way of reorienting yourself and refreshing yourself, and offer a hint at the weird kind of majestic curveballs life seems to delight in throwing our ways. Treasure these moments.

Taylor Swift

…Or any celebrity of your choice. I’m not joking. People will spout theories about the postmodern artifice of celeb culture until their sacred cows come home, or talk about disconnection and false idols, or even reprimand you for saying you “love” the Pixies because you don’t know them (these people make me literally want to tear my eyes out and suck them through a straw. Literally). Fuck ‘em. Sing Taylor Swift into your hairbrush like you’re six again, read Azealia Banks’ Playboy article in gasping awe (and flick through the pictures. I said GODDAMN), hang posters on your wall. Pandora’s Box has been opened, suckas, and the voices it’s given us access to is more than worth the vapidity. All Hail Queen Bey.

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