Sometimes, a good moment in the present helps you to reflect better on the past, or plan for the future. In my case, a yearly summer vacation to a lovely ocean-side spot near Parksville, BC provided a welcome chance to unwind and reflect.
I also started reading Craig Ferguson’s biography, “American on Purpose”, and even after just a few chapters, the man’s wit, silliness, and achingly honest description of his family and his life have inspired me. Craig’s description of his parents in particular, and the almost glamorous impression they left with him was strikingly familiar to me. He describes his father’s handsome, slender appearance in one instance, and in another instance after his father has become drunk, his biting sarcasm or bitter authority.
This depiction of two-sided grace resonates strongly with my own memories of my parents. Probably everyone wants to remember their parents in a positive way if they can. Children (at least the youngest ones) tend to idolize at least one parent, and place them high on the idolatry scale. I think this must be related to bonding and learning by example. It can be heartbreaking and devastating to find out just how weak-willed, vulnerable or unworthy a parent can be. As kids, it can be hard to watch our parents (or any significant adults in our lives) act badly or make all-too-human mistakes.
Like Craig Ferguson’s Dad, my Dad was tall, good-looking and smelled of Brylcreem. Like Craig Ferguson’s Mum, my Mum was a physically beautiful woman whose image haunts me. I’m convinced that my Dad was an extremely intelligent man, who was often frustrated by the idiocies he saw perpetrated around him, and possibly convinced that he was smarter than most of the people around him. I don’t doubt that he was right either. Dad was proud, smart, and independently-minded.
My Mum had multiple creative and artistic talents: singer, musician, actor. She also struggled with manic depression (bipolar disorder) and alcoholism, throughout her life. She had a light within her that I never really got a chance to see.
Both of them, at their best, loved to laugh and quote silly humour like poems by Ogden Nash, phrases from Groucho Marks, or sing along to silly songs with lyrics like “Boop Boop Diddim Daddum Waddum Choo! | And they swam and they swam right over the dam!”
Maybe life ground them down more and more as they went through middle age – maybe depression took over. Maybe the silly little joys just evaporated from lack of practice. Maybe happiness gradually gave way to depression, and light-heartedness just transformed into tension and pressure.
Perhaps “unrealized potential” is the term that describes my Mum and Dad best of all: feeling trapped in a life that seems to be preventing you from doing what you want, or getting to a point in your life where you feel like all your dreams have gone past you and all opportunities for success have been spent.
I think that with more care and more support in their lives, perhaps my parents might have been able to shed their alcoholism and self-destructive tendencies and might have had more of a chance to have a real life together. I often imagine a mythical Jim and Angela, healthy, smiling, talking together, traveling together and living together – living lives that are similar to the life I enjoy with my wife. I guess that means that I am happy. I wish they could have been happier too.
For me, the lesson I take from them is that one must make one’s own opportunities in life, and find or manufacture ones own happiness and fulfillment. The saddest people either forget this, or feel that they will never achieve it. The happiest, I think, are those who strive for it in spite of any obstacles. The best of us are those who help others to achieve their bliss in some way.
What I have left is a number of photos that prove that once upon a time, my folks were indeed happy and bright, and optimistic about the future. Once, they ran a small household, went on driving trips through the western provinces, camped in a camper truck, and visited their relatives.
Maybe for some people, happiness appears to be a limited time affair. I’m not a recovering alcoholic like Craig Ferguson (thank god). The stats say that I should be. But, I do believe that Craig and I have something in common: a belief that happiness is tied to personal growth and health, and is a daily work in progress.
Anyway, nice book Craig. Truly.