I was watching Angels in America last night. In it is the portrayal of an orthodox Mormon, one who still wears his special underwear, who finally admits he is gay after his marriage crashes around him.
He is full of shame, having spent years fighting these “sinful” tendencies and feelings and the actor (an impressive Russell Tovey) shows, vividly and compassionately, a man who has strong moral objections about who he is and who is discovering that he is going to have to reconcile these two extremes.
I sat there at one point thinking well this is who you are. You are just going to have to accept who you are and get on with it, and you will eventually be happier for it when I realised the irony in this.
We had been talking about shame in therapy and it was fresh in my mind. I know what my childhood is and why. It’s not so much my childhood itself but the knock on effect. I feel apart from my peers from having had different life experiences. I find it difficult telling people that actually I don’t feel privileged for having travelled and grown up abroad, that I’d have preferred to have had a happy family who never moved house and holidayed by the sea every year. I feel ashamed for not being grateful of this unasked boon that was granted me.
Imagine, if you will, how much more shame I feel when I admit that I am approaching 50 and I don’t own my own house, don’t have a career, don’t have a pension, don’t have six holidays a year and don’t even know what I do want to do for a living.
Who the hell am I telling anyone, even an actor playing a part, to set aside the shame, accept who you are and get on with it?
I should be proud that I have brought up four boys without disaster and yet I still feel ashamed that I had to do it on my own. I cannot genuinely feel pride in my sons’ achievements without having to think about it furiously first as life would be so much easier if they just went to school, went to university and got a nice job with career prospects. They wouldn’t be the complex thinking independent individuals that they are if they were able to go down that mainstream route but yet I find it difficult describing where they are in life without feeling defensive. And yet I love them so very much and am incredibly proud of them, difficult, awkward, stubborn and demanding as they may be.
I had been feeling quite pleased that earlier in the week I had a revealing conversation with couple of neighbours who were both single parents, now a couple, who also work multiple jobs (although are a lot more secure financially) and I was quite open about the trade off between bringing up boys and not having a career or much money. We all walked away feeling a little bit closer to becoming real friends rather than acquaintances. And still, part of me is ashamed that I haven’t managed to find a partner second (third) time around in middle-age as they did as if that too suggests that I am inadequate.
I was even more pleased earlier in the week when 3son said that he’d been talking with his friends and despite all the bad parenting decisions I’d made was aware of all the great parentings decision I made and how supportive they were compared to other parents. I jokingly asked him not to tell me what all my bad parenting was and he paused and said
well, I presume you’ve made some bad parenting choices, but on reflection I can’t actually think of any