It is my theory that no matter how cool your parents are, or how different they seem from the stereotypical parents, eventually everyone’s parents become exactly like everyone else’s.
When I was young, my parents were hip. They were nice to my friends, and my friends thought they were “groovy,” or whatever slang we used in the 1980s. I was always proud of Mom and Dad’s youthfulness and congeniality.
Now they are older, though I suppose that is true of most of us. There is gray in their hair and their steps are not as springy. They have more girth than they once did (though I suppose that is also true of most of us). They creak when they walk, which is good, because that sound is often the only thing frightening off the vultures and other carrion-feeders that circle overhead. Sometimes my siblings and I push Mom and Dad down, just to see if they can get up again.
But it’s more than just their chronological aging. Their attitudes seem more parenty now, too. They remind me of the befuddled middle-aged mothers and fathers you see in sitcoms, the kind who only eat vanilla ice cream and go to bed at 10 p.m. and view all electronic devices with suspicion.
In other words, they remind me of how my grandparents — THEIR parents — were when I was a kid.
The first time I noticed it was on my birthday last year, when Mom and Dad called to wish me a happy one. First Mom got on the phone and asked a bunch of questions — how’s work, how’s the house, am I seeing anyone, etc. Then Dad came on and asked the exact same questions, as if reading from a parenting script. I thought they were playing good cop/bad cop, trying to trip me up in my story, and that later they would compare notes. (“He told you work was ‘fine’? He told me work was ‘OK’!”) If this line of redundant questioning is not stereotypical parent behavior, I don’t know what is.
The older we both get, the less I have in common with Dad. We do not watch the same movies — I watch everything; he watches nothing — nor read the same books nor eat at the same restaurants. The last time I was home, I told my parents I wanted to take them out to the dining establishment of their choice. They chose Coco’s, a chain of eateries in California that is on the same level as Village Inn or Dee’s — good enough food, but hardly something you look forward to. Yet there we were, on a semi-special occasion, eating diner steak and having key lime pie for dessert. The fact that I’m even mentioning this is probably itself a source of division between my parents and me; they will surely not see what I find funny about it, and like most aspects of my life, they will look at this column with bemusement and bewilderment.
So the last time I talked to Dad, I discovered something we can relate to each other on: money. My parents bought a new house the same time I did, so we had much to discuss. Interest rates, mortgage payments, equity loans — we could have gone on for hours. I told him how much credit card debt I had accumulated, and I believe he was genuinely impressed that one person could spend that much without the aid of a wife or children.
Not long ago, Mom sent me an e-mail to which I did not immediately respond. The next day, she sent it again, saying she wasn’t sure it had really gone the first time. Translation? “You MUST not have gotten it, because if you had, SURELY you would have replied to your poor old gray-headed mother immediately.” This is Motherhood with a capital M.
And yet, for all our differences, I hesitate to say I don’t understand my parents, or that they don’t understand me. We do understand each other — or we grasp the basics, anyway. I know what makes them tick, even if some of their specific behavior puzzles me, and they know more about my inner workings than most people do. Maybe we don’t relate to each other very well. But since when is that a requirement for loving someone? I love my parents dearly, and I’ll be sad when the buzzards finally carry them off.
I was asked whether I was certain I wanted to use the last line. I said I most definitely did. Without it, the column ends on a sentimental note, which I can't handle. Also, I was sure that part would be my parents' favorite. Jokes about Mom and Dad's mortality = funny.