Sunday 27 January 2013

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Some years ago I was at a party talking to a fellow Cuban when an acquaintance of ours (another Cuban) happened to come into the room. We all greeted each other and I remember answering his question “How is it going?” with: “A la marchita” (Going). I don’t recall hearing myself using the phrase but the bloke who’d been sitting with me until that moment looked at me as if he’d just seen an alien.
A la marchita” is not a form of address we use regularly in the largest island of the Antilles. And my English translation doesn’t really do the phrase justice. It fails to convey the old-fashioned sense of it. The only other person I ever heard using it before was... wait for it... my father.
They f**k you up, your mum and dad/they may not mean to, but they do/they fill you with the faults they had/and add some extra, just for you”.

Philip Larkin got it almost right when he wrote This Be the Verse. Our parents’ approach to child-raising (as good-intentioned as it is) is probably the reason why many of us rebel in our teens. But then time marches on and one day we catch our reflection on the bathroom mirror and... Aaargh! Who’s that looking back at me? Could it be that...?  No, yesterday I had my own ears, mouth and mannerisms. And today they all look like... Even the way I scratch the back of my left leg with my right foot is just like... mum’s (or dad’s).

Enter middle-age despondence.

Up until that moment at the party I’d never realised how much I had metamorphosed into my father. There had always been comparisons between him and me, but of the normal kind and they were also easier to accept when I was little. But on closer inspection I noticed that my habit of bringing up song titles and linking them to random words in conversations and my current lectures to my fifteen-year-old-son (delivered with a professor-like, stern tone) were taken straight out of the Cuban In London Senior’s book.

In the novel I’m reading at the moment of writing this post, Life is Elsewhere, by the Czech writer Milan Kundera, the main character, Jaromil, aspires to become a poet but he cannot escape his mother’s ever-looming shadow. Kundera is a master at describing a person’s inner conflicts and Jaromil’s love-hate feelings, as a teenager, towards his progenitor sum up pretty much how we feel about our parents at that difficult age. Yet, once we arrive at middle age and find that we resemble somewhat those who are responsible for our existence and the good and bad in us (hopefully more of the former than the latter) we react with mild horror.

In my case it’s not just my father’s phrase “A la marchita” that has made me wonder if it was worth me running away, metaphorically speaking, all those years ago from my parents’ overprotective mantle. The first time I chastised one of my children, I remember using exactly the same words my mother used to utter when she gave me a tongue-lashing. What was weird about it was that, unlike my father’s old-fashioned greeting which I can’t recall saying, I plagiarised my mum’s words on purpose. Has that ever happened to you, my dear fellow bloggers and readers? Has any of you started to resemble your parents yet? And, is this (un)conscious copying one of those facts of life that we must resign ourselves to accept, like the assumption that our offspring will one day get married, have children, a good job and a house, although not precisely in that order?

Maybe it is fear what we’re dealing with here. And this fear of behaving like our parents is deep inside a fear of not being original. After all, part of our success in life (and I’m not talking of the economic side of it) is based on the idea of creating. Creating a family, creating a home, creating an experience for ourselves. And the fact that perhaps behind each act of creation we’re involved in lies the ubiquitous presence of mum and dad is sometimes too much to bear. Larkin, then, was on to something.

© 2012

Next Post: “Killer Opening Songs”, to be published on Wednesday 30th January at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. I guess we can't escape our parents' influence in the long run!

    Thanks for taking off word verification. (I do know how to get a more legible code, but it takes such a long time in many cases..)

    Spam filters are pretty effective these days - hope yours is!

  2. ha yes..happens sometimes...not too often in my case and sometimes it makes me smile and sometimes i shake my head..smiles..happy sunday to you..

  3. oh and cool you got rid of that annoying word verification as

  4. I find I am so much more like my Mum now than I was when she was alive! It's like I don't need to pretend any more ("I am NOT like you! I am NOT like you!"). Now, on the whole, I'm quite proud to be like her.
    I hardly knew my Dad so it's impossible to gauge that one!

  5. haha yeah it happens to us all, I find myself repeating phrases they used on me. They have them engrained in my head damn it

  6. De jóvenes detestamos muchas cosas de nuestros padres y de mayores nos damos cuenta que somos como ellos.
    Espero que tengas lo mejor de ellos, un abrazo

  7. ah you got it right...and funny i wrote something very similar today on that realization...the fear i have is growing up as much as becoming them...i dont want to lose that connection with my child....

  8. only when I travel I have company at breakfast. :)

  9. This made me smile. Oh yes, and more, I want to say. Wait until you are older than your parents ever were, wait and see how you became them, how your house, your children, even your mate all remind you of what it was like...
    You and I left our cultures, homelands and moved on to bigger adventures. Yet, we carry with us baggage and baggage of mannerisms, beliefs, even phrases and curse words that keep us grounded in our motherland.

    I wonder how far back we all go.
    What does all this say about humanity's burden as well as gift that memories are part of our DNA?

    Excellent Sunday post!

  10. Nice going!

    Best regards from South Beach, where often I find myself doing what my mother did . . .

  11. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    I don't know if I'm already trying to convert my son to my own ways and habits but for some reason history is repeating itself. He discovered rock about a year ago about the same age I did. He's just been given an AC/DC album (Highway to Hell) for his birthday at the same age I listened to the same band for the first time (15). And tonight we saw one of my favourite movies ever (my wife joined us at the end), High Fidelity. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  12. I know I have things especially from my Mom, we laugh of the dsme things, she has a fast mind and naughty, (and she has 83 :)) but I see some of there things in me I think when I wake up I go to breakfast almost the shut eyes and wake when I breakfast.
    But im really quiet about this I accept we have things of our psrents snd some people said I cook like my grand mom but my mom cook so well too.

    Sometimes I think in this because my twins (a woman and a boy) are adopted they arrive to our life when they have three days of life and know they have 18.
    Normally we talk about their adoption but sometimes I think, how was her biologic mom? or Ditto is like his biologic Dad? I cant know.
    Anyway like the life is always a surprise Ditto (my son) is almost identical to one of my nephew (son of my brother) is funny didn't??
    God is somethin special...
    This is s nice post like all yours:)

  13. It's only natural we turn into our parents. Your son will become you one day too. Seems to be the cycle of life.

  14. Proudly so, proudly so. I do use the same phrases my mother did and I do so with pride. And, in becoming a parent (my son is 21 now), I have gained much insight into the same fears and concerns that my parents had. And then I wondered how they did it (there was six of us).
    And, I rather like that phrase, A la marchita. We have phrases in Hawaii that are difficult to translate that would do it justice too.

  15. Oh dear, this strikes fear into my heart. While I love and respect my parents, their beliefs are nearly contrary to my own. I suppose I am like my mother only in the level of vociferousness I will state them -- we're just opposite sides of the same coin. As far as parenting, I believe I love the same as my parents but am far more open and tolerant than they might have been. I kept many secrets from my parents, out of fear; I don't imagine my sons to have those same needs. Then again, I could be fooling myself to think otherwise!

  16. I think it's nice that you used your Father's saying...connectivity.
    I definitely look more like my Mother all the time. Sometimes we become what we run from.

  17. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  18. Dear Cuban in London - This is so accurate - and it does increase with age. I used to (still) get very impatient with my mother at moments not so much because of her faults but because I inherited them! Also, now, increasingly, I am conscious of using her phraseology - things that hardly seem natural to me. For example, she was raised in the MidWest U.S. and me in the East, and yet I'll use these weird MidWestern formulations. It's very strange, and my mother, for her part, says things that could be out of my grandmother's mouth. Sometimes - if one can stand back - there is something lovely in this.

    For me, it's not a fear of not being original so much as a sudden realization of the lack of control we have to "decide" who we are. Very good post. k.

  19. Thanks a million for this. I, too, have morphed into my father. I was always like him, but the likeness seemed to grow rapidly after he died. I could hear him in my voice and see him, both in my features and gait. It was quite unnerving at first, but definitely something that quietly pleased me.

    Thanks for the track. Superb!!

  20. When I was a teenager I rebelled against being at all like my mother...she seemed a totally different and distant person from me.
    Yet now, people are often remarking how like her I I guess there is no escaping genetic links after all!!

    Many thanks for the track. I loved it:)

  21. I love the cello! Took lessons for a year and a half ~ quit because after I had my last child...he'd cry when I'd practice (too loud and low I suppose!) Hoping to get back to it another day when the kiddos are out of the house and I'm not running them all over the place!
    Now...this parent thing ~ so funny how that works doesn't it! We were just talking about that this weekend! My friend's daughter was complaining about something her mum did (can't recall at the moment what it was!) and I told her to BEWARE....for it is face (I'm positive!) that everything that bothers you about your parents...and that you complain about will absolutely become a it or not...that you end up of having! My sister and mom always laugh about this..."mom you're becoming grandma!" and we in turn have started acting like mom! ahhhh...the circle of life :)

  22. i guess it happens to us all I must confess I fight against my mums negativity

  23. Ha! I had a similar experience, hearing myself respond to my teenaged son like my mom. My daughter is looking and sounding more like me every day. There is no escape. We can only hope we inherit more good than bad. Your music clip was beautiful and even more beautiful is not having to squint at word verification. Thank you!

  24. I get what you are saying, but I also think that so many people spend so much time blaming things on their parents, that they sure as hell don't want to think they turned out "like that." I liked my parents, a lot. So it is much less of an issue for me. My dad was original, eccentric & much more creative than I. I love the ways I am like him. My mom was more of an intellectual, had a sharper wit, & generally was a nicer person than I am. I like the ways I am like her as well.

  25. Enjoyed reading this. Straight from he heart, and many of your observations are true. I always used to wonder if these deja vu is from the genes or is it because we 'observe' our parents and copy them involuntarily.

  26. So often the things we found fault with about our parents....well, we look in the mirror and we find we have taken on a lot of these things that we criticized as part of our own persona. Sometimes we hate that; and sometimes we have a different outlook and realized that what we found fault with as a young person was NOT so bad after all.

  27. Hello. Seems different stages in life bring differing opinions on the degree of angst we feel at being like our parents. There was a time, when I was much younger, that I would hear my mother in myself and cringe. The last few years I've found a certain comfort and familiarity with her mannerisms in myself. She passed away in February and seeing and hearing her in my voice and movements makes me smile. Seeing her in my children makes me smile even more ... she lives on in us and for that I'm ever grateful. ♥
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment on my blog today. I appreciate your encouragement. ~Cat



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