Recently, one of my counselling colleagues wailed, “Why are we always talking about mothers?!”
Because it’s our first ‘relationship’, and through it we learn how to get attention from others, and how to get the things we need. It’s fairly simple (and fairly easy to stuff up for a whole bunch of reasons).
I like memoirs, particularly those about mothers, which is why I picked up Richard Glover’s Flesh Wounds.
Richard’s mother left the family when Richard was a child, and ran away with his English teacher, where they lived an eccentric lifestyle (nudism; a Tolkien-inspired house; a stuffed toy collection that they ‘tucked in’ every night). Richard tells of his mother’s snobbish and narcissistic ways, from her claim that she never had sex with her husband and that Richard was the “first test tube baby born in Australia”, to her plummy but out-of-place ‘British’ English (lavatories not toilets) and the inconsistent stories of her wealthy upbringing.
As Richard recounts the circumstances that lead up to and followed his mother’s departure, he nonchalantly states, “Who feels they were given the love they deserved as a child?”. He certainly did not, and as he moved into adulthood, Richard found that the events of his childhood had a lasting impact.
You need to look past the shock-factor and bravado in Richard’s story – his favourite dinner party game, ‘Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents?’; his mother’s lies; and his alcoholic father’s neglectful parenting – and instead see the deeply wounded child. A child whose mother looked her boy in the eye and said she was choosing her lover over him. A child whose father was absent when he was most needed. A child who sought love and attention in any way he could, leaving him vulnerable in the most tragic way.
For much of his early adult life, Richard focused on ‘overcoming’ his family history, believing that people who were obsessed with the past missed out on living their actual, available lives.
“I didn’t want to be one of those people focusing on, and thus giving power to the worst people in their lives…”
However, his wife (author and playwright, Debra Oswald) pointed out that, “…not understanding what happened to you is a different way of giving power to whatever it was that hurt you.” (I agree with Debra).
In order to make sense of his life, Richard delves into his past, trying to untangle the outrageous lies his mother had told about her own history. We’re spared nitty-gritty genealogical detail and instead given the broad outline of how the life his mother had invented for herself revealed her sadness and insecurities.
This is the trouble with real life story arcs, the happiness is so rarely saved for the end.
I enjoyed Richard’s straightforward style, his dark humour, and his willingness to share and reflect on some very painful times in his life. Sure, humour is a defence mechanism, but it still takes guts to publish a written version of ‘Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents?’.
Richard keeps ordering fish pie while visiting England, despite there being very little fish in these pies –
“…this time round, I decided the chef was a devotee of homeopathy, bringing to the white sauce a mere memory of fish, whispering the word as he stirred, “Fish…fish…fish…”. Or maybe just humming a few bars of ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’, as he flung a litre of béchamel sauce in the microwave.”