Reading through my father’s memoirs again, one thing that really leaps out is how uncertain he was of his place in the world. He talks of finishing his degree at Oxford and not being really sure of the value of an Oxford education and the privilege that was part of it. He talks of thinking about careers and how money would help some of them to the extent of excluding him. He had friends who went on to do “great” things but he never did. He stood in the sidelines and might have had an important role more than once but it was always in the shadow, never in the light. The one time he tried to stand in the limelight,when he stood as a prospective parliamentary candidate, it didn’t work.
Money has given him a sense of security and he’s found it easier to belong to a country not his own than he does his native country. He has always felt that he doesn’t belong. He got told in his forties to get a proper suit before going for his formal interview. The one he felt comfortable was not appropriate for the role he was going to and he needed a pinstripe which is so not him. He has worked with powerful people his entire life but never been a recognised name himself. None of this self-doubt ever went away and I wonder how much of this insecurity he unwittingly passed on to us.
My father would say now that he knows exactly who he is and what he wants and that he’s living his dream, well until he returned to London he would have. My parents live in their own bubble, one that excluded most of the world which is why it was perfect.
Some of the anger I have over labels is that sense of not belonging. Whether it is connected to the amount of times I had to wave my passport at customs as a child, back in the good/bad old days (delete according to your politics) when that was a regular thing in Europe I don’t know. My parents were also totally wrapped up in the divided identities as Yorkshire v Kent, North v South, softie v tough. We had to choose where we belonged and we couldn’t belong to both.
Belonging was something that had to be earned and I never did. Not until I moved here, to my home of the last 17 years, did I feel I belong. Even now though I walk into my local pub and think that I don’t belong quite as much as someone who has been going there for 40 years or who goes 5 times a week while I merely turn up once or twice.
I will always, probably, doubt my ability to belong. It’s one of the reasons I still don’t speak half the stuff going through my mind on the course, because people may not want to hear it, may be bored, may disagree with me. I may not express my thoughts or feelings clearly and be misunderstood. I may upset someone. My default defence mechanism has always been to shut up and hide and I struggle to reverse that and speak out.
I also realise that while I knew all my closest friends are mavericks, independent individuals they are also honest and open. Forthright if necessary and blunt to the point of rudeness which may on occasion go over the top. But for all that they are complete individuals and totally different they all share that openness and willingness to communicate. My children are all honest and transparent for the most part. Sometimes I wish they weren’t but I’d much rather not like what is going through their heads than wonder what is.
I may never come out of my shell and own up to being me and not some preconceived or pre-arranged (tidied?) version of me, not in groups anyway. There are times when I feel I belong to another plant, such is my lack of identifying with other people’s experience.
But my list of friends with whom I can be as real as I want is getting longer and deeper. I am fortunate indeed to count them as friends and it really is up to me to keep those friendships going.
Tonight I am grateful for those people in my life who I am fortunate to love, truely, madly and deeply. Love ya!