The other day a friend shared something I often hear. “It’s amazing you’re so close to your mom,” she offered. “It’s kind of unbelievable you are so good to your dad.”

I suppose, in some ways, this is true. I suppose you could justify my not taking care of Danny. After all, when he had his stroke six years ago and I centered my life around taking care of him, at least for a little while, my mother-in-law pointed out that “of course I had to take care of him.” All I could think, and point out in response, was that no, I didn’t have to take care of him. In many ways I owed him nothing, based on everything that had happened. But I chose to take care of him anyway. And I still choose to.

By the story line my parents left a lot to be desired as parents. They split when I was young, but many parents do that. In fact they split well – determining to be friends and friendly with each other since they had us (my older brother and me) to take care of. That’s pretty much what they did well. The rest may have been well-intentioned, but it was pretty screwy when you look back at it. And awfully screwy as you went through with it.

My dad’s rage, inappropriateness, and willingness to expose us to scary situations and people – screwy. He did put a roof over our head (when he had to take care of us after my mom left) and he did love us (though I never really knew or felt it).  But screwy nonetheless. My mom’s leaving – abandoning us with her father who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown so that she could join a cult and save the world – screwy. Left me feeling unloved, unlovable, and unable to find love. Screwy.

But over the years I’ve realized that they did the best they could with what they had. They hadn’t necessarily received all that they had needed from their parents (and who knows how far back that went). They were “babies having babies” and lacked the skills and experience to parent less selfishly than they did.

And besides, although I’ve had my moments of wanting to never see or talk with them again, although I have my moments of pain and anguish when all that happened seems to uncontrollably rise up within me and threaten to extinguish me, I’ve realized that I have choices in each moment to do what I want and have the life I want. I have choices of whether – and how – I will relate to them and what I’ll allow in my life.

With Danny, I’ve realized that as difficult as he can be to be around and care for, I wouldn’t be happy with myself if I didn’t take care of him. I may not center my life around him now, but I can’t just leave him alone.

With my mom, we’ve worked through many issues, talked through what happened, and tried (and try) to build a new path. It’s not always easy, but when I stop and notice, I notice how much she’s here for me now. It’s almost as if it makes up for when she wasn’t. Almost, but not quite, because honestly making up for isn’t realistic and it isn’t possible. All I have is now.

Maybe someone else would approach this differently. Maybe they’d choose to not have their parents in their life. Maybe that would be the best choice for them. For me, it’s best to keep going, to make the best of what I had and what I have, to be strong and compassionate (for my parents and especially for me), and find a way, whenever I can, to have a smile on my face and in my heart.

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