Each of my parents have taught me so much more than I say, or even write, but things that have helped to shape the way I regard myself, the world and others. I’m grateful to them for that, particularly for the following.
My mother has taught me to be a feminist. Not in a scary, men-hating or angry way, but through an unspoken expectation that I should be treated no differently for being female, and certainly no worse. Something I only found out recently makes a lot of sense. Before my sister and I were born my parents lived in America for four years. I always assumed it was because of my dad’s job, but recently one of them mentioned that it was because when he suggested to my mother that they get married, she accepted on the proviso that they would live abroad before starting a family. It was something she had always wanted to do, and she could see no reason why getting married should curtail that ambition. My dad agreed.
Both my sister and I have ended up married to kind, supportive men who do at least their share of the housework. Not because we set out to specifically find those kinds of men, but because our parents had embedded us with those expectations through the example of their own marriage.
My father has taught me to be interested, especially in people. Everywhere we’ve ever gone, he’s talked to the people around him, shown an interest in their lives, their circumstances, their happinesses. His openness, and the generosity of his interest, has shown me that sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone is listen to what they have to say, and that in return you might discover something fascinating, about them, about yourself, about human nature. He’s the reason I’ve had conversations with people on subway trains and in supermarkets, the reason why I as intrigued by the person doing admin for a company that hires out cranes as I am by the person working in a shop by day and working the comedy circuit by night. Sometimes I forget to be interested in others, because I’m busy, tired or stressed out. Then I remember, and the world is a little bit brighter – and a lot more fun.
When my dad retired from being a social worker he became a storyteller. Last Wednesday I went to his last ever storytelling gig – and it was both wonderful and heartbreaking. Semantic dementia is a cruel affliction for someone who so loves words – he is slowly losing both his fluency in speaking them and understanding what’s said to him. But at least he should always know that when he had words readily available he used them to the best of his ability, and the results were wonderful.