My dad's name is Pete. He was born in 1943 and grew up in Minnesota and then Florida. Ironically, his parents picked up and moved to Florida, leaving his extended family behind, when he was 12. That's the same age that I was when my parents uprooted us and took us to Siberia. Oops. I mean Oregon. Pete has one older sister and two significantly younger siblings, a boy and a girl. The two young ones are 8-10 years behind Pete. What else? Oh, yeah. His parents were both raging alcoholics, I'm talking passed out in your own vomit kind of drunks.
Now his dad was a glazer who traveled a lot doing work on old churches. It was his mom who was home with the kids. She was drunk a lot, which meant that Pete had to take care of the little ones. His older sister was out partying and she was eventually a full-blown drunk herself. In addition, Pete also had to clean up his mom and get her into bed when he found her lying on the bathroom floor in the aforementioned puke. You can imagine that Dad is not very forthcoming with details from his childhood, so I'm not clear what their income situation was. I don't know if his mom worked. I do know that food was scarce and Pete and the young ones, who were basically in his charge, went hungry sometimes. And the last piece that you need to know is that both of his parents had a wicked temper and razor sharp tongues, especially his mom. I knew this woman growing up and she was sharp! She had a quick wit that could be used for good or evil. I have wondered if my tendency to blurt out sarcastic observations is not in my DNA thanks to her.
As a result of this upbringing, two major trends developed in Pete. The first was that wicked temper. The second was a compulsive need to protect food. He likes to direct how much each person gets, when they get to eat, and what they get to eat. And here's a big one, if you take something onto your plate, you damn well better finish it, because we do NOT WASTE FOOD. It's this intense scarcity mentality. When you combine that with the wicked temper, things can get dicey for his girls. There are two major incidents that stick out in my mind that basically summarize the relationship between me and Dad over food.
The first happened at the family dinner table. I must have been 5 or 6? Like always I was given a serving of that night's vegetables. I'm pretty sure it was peas. And like almost every night, I didn't eat them until last because I hated vegetables. Really, I didn't want to eat them at all but I always had to. For whatever reason I started whining about it this night. I wasn't going to eat them. They were now cold, I didn't like them, yada yada yada. This infuriated my dad. He yelled at me that it was my fault they were cold, I should have eaten them right away, I have to eat my vegetables, they're good food, etc. I mean he was really worked up. Well I dug in and refused to eat them. I was crying, Dad was screaming, my sister got sent away from the table, and Mom was stuck in the middle. It was a scene. Finally, my mom came in on my behalf and said there was no need to force me to eat the peas. Something snapped inside my dad and he got up from the kitchen table, walked over to the door that led to the garage, and put his fist THROUGH the door. Are you with me? He punched a hole the size of my 5-year-old head IN A DOOR! Are you picturing this? I think I peed myself. What happened next is a blur of screaming and slamming doors and getting sent to bed early. The message was clear. Dad was crazy and survival dictated that you did what he told you to do, even eating cold peas.
The next time was at my birthday party, let's say my 7th. I don't remember actually, but I was still pretty young. It was a typical party with a bunch of kids and games. We were having hot dogs for lunch. Dad served me a hot dog with mustard on it. I said I liked ketchup. I didn't want to eat one with mustard. Dad said that's too bad. He already made this one with mustard and he wasn't going to waste it. I whined that somebody else could eat it. I wanted one with ketchup. The temper started to flare as he tells me, I made this one for you, Jen and you should be grateful that you get one. You're going to eat this one. I started crying. I don't like mustard Dad! The temper snaps. Oh yeah?! He takes the hot dog and mashes it all over my face. In front of all those other kids, at my own freakin' birthday party. Yeah.
What lessons were drawn from these incidents? Definitely that my dad was to be feared and I did fear him for about 20 years after that. Now that he's 65 and I'm 35, I feel sympathy for his food hang-ups but I don't fear him anymore. If anything, he might fear me. I inherited that temper too. And now I'm in the position of defending Griffin and Molly against him. That makes my temper come out real fast. Also, that food is something that should not be taken for granted and that we have to make sure there is enough for everyone. My dad still barks at Griffin if he takes a second helping of something. And this is my favorite weird rule, you are not allowed to take the last piece of something. He's adamant about this one. But EVERYONE follows this rule! As a result, I have seen a last piece of pie sit on the counter for days because the rest of the family is afraid to eat it until Pete gives the go-ahead.
What can I learn today? I don't know yet. I think writing about it is the first step to getting it into perspective. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3. Maybe I can makes some sense out of all of it.