These are the things our parents give us (and that we, in turn, bequeath to our children). There are the deliberate gestures – the passing on of certain attitudes and behaviours:
- no shoes in the house
- a love of good cheese and chocolate
- an appreciation of literature and classical music
- frugality that morphs into a penchant for recycling
- disdain for flashiness and the pursuit of financial gain at all costs
- the pursuit of education at all costs
- a deep sense of justice and fairness
- a secret love of meringues
And then there are the accidental loans – the unconscious drip-drip of patterns and behaviours that leak out despite (or in the absence of) the best intentions:
- a tendency to criticise and judge others harshly
- an inability to deal with rejection
- lies and subterfuge
- moodiness and depression
- obsessive compulsive disorder
Last week, Ben told me his dad went into detox. My response was less than charitable. I was still angry at him for failing his son – and me – so spectacularly when Ben needed him most. I remembered the addled and circular conversations we’d had when Ben was at his worst and I had been desperate for someone from Ben’s family to come and take over, instead of leaving me to handle it on my own (which they happily did in the end). I realised that Ben’s dad had been drunk on the few occasions we spoke over the phone – much as I’d suspected.
And then I blamed him for Ben’s alcoholism, too. Here was clear evidence that almost every disappointing element of Ben’s character – the cowardice, the weakness, the lying, the drinking – all of it came from his selfish, cowardly, alcoholic father.
In one gesture, I’d managed to shift the blame from Ben to his father, paradoxically opening the door to compassion. As long as Ben’s father was the bastard, Ben was just the victim. I chose not to look too deeply into the fact that Ben’s paternal grandfather was also a severe alcoholic (like his grandfather on his mother’s side).
When I look at Rosie and think about her prospects, I’m filled with dread. It is because of the sheer hopelessness of her paternal genes (when it comes to alcohol and addiction) that I have sworn off alcohol for good. I am keenly aware of what image I want to pass on to her vis-a-vis drinking. It’s her inheritance on her dad’s side that worries me. Is she already lost?