In this post, I will muse and ramble on the subject of regarding one’s parents as real people. I will be drawing from Stephen King’s IT, but I will begin this post by quoting from Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town. Rachel talks about her struggle as an evangelical Christian with the issue of hell, particularly how God could condemn people in non-Christian cultures for not believing in Jesus. Rachel discusses the issue with her father, a Christian professor, and he tells her that God’s ways are higher than our ways. Rachel is not satisfied with that answer, and she wonders if the God of evangelical Christianity is just as bad as a Nazi prison guard. Her father then gently says that she should be careful about what she says. On page 100, Rachel states the following:
“I think you officially grow up the moment you realize you are capable of causing your parents pain. All the rebellion of adolescence, all the slammed doors and temper tantrums and thoughtless words of youth—those are signs that you still think your parents are invincible, that you still imagine yourself as powerless against them. As my father and I talked in his office that afternoon, I imagined how devastated I would be if I ever left the faith, and I realized for the first time that I could break his heart. I realized for the first time that we were made out of the same stuff. Fear and insecurity felt the same to him as they felt to me. He had no special immunity against disappointment or guilt, no built-in armor to protect himself from the pain I might cause him. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to relate to my father as a peer. It was scary.”
This passage really hit home for me, for I myself tend to put my parents on a pedestal. It’s not that I regard them as flawless, mind you, but I’d like to think that their approval of me is rock-solid. Consequently, if I am cross or impatient with my Mom, I chalk that up to my weak human nature, but, if she is cross or impatient with me (which doesn’t happen that often), I feel devastated. In short, I don’t give my parents the space to be human that I allow for myself. It’s like I see them as God-like, but not totally God-like.
In a variety of ways, Stephen King’s IT touches on the issue of our parents being human, just as we are. Here are some examples in what I have read in the book so far (and, just to be clear, much of the following has nothing to do with how I see my own parents!):
1. After IT kills Bill Dengrough’s little brother, Georgie, his parents are not the same. Laughter is gone from the house, and, when Bill’s father does smile, his smile is merely a shadow of his old grin. Bill’s parents are silent and distant. Bill understands his parents’ grief, for he shares it himself. But my impression is that he longs for his parents to be stronger for him, or at least to be available to him as parents. (Pages 242-243, 671)
2. Henry Bowers is a bully, and he is abused by his crazy father, who intensely dislikes his African-American neighbors, the Hanlons. Henry hates his father, and yet he also loves him and desires his approval. In a disturbing and horrible scene, Henry lures the Hanlons’ dog with chips and treats, then he kills the dog by feeding him food laced with insect poison. Henry then ties the dog to a tree and watches him die. On page 666, we read: “And that afternoon, after he had told [his father], he felt he had finally found the key to his father’s affections, because his father had clapped him on the back (so hard that Henry almost fell over), taken him in a living room, and given him a beer. It was the first beer Henry had ever had, and for all the rest of the years he would associate that taste with positive emotions: victory and love.”
3. On pages 662-663, Richie is frustrated with his mother because she will not listen to him. Richie’s glasses break after a bully (and friend of Henry Bowers) named Gard Jagermeyer pushes him into a gutter. But Richie’s Mom reprimands Richie, saying, “Honestly, Richie, do you think there’s a glasses-tree somewhere and we can just pull off a new pair of spectacles for you whenever you break the old pair?” She later says, “the next time you see your father come in looking whipped after working late three nights in a row, you think a little bit, Richie.” Richie tries to explain to his Mom that it wasn’t his fault, that he was pushed into the gutter by a bully, but she will not listen. We read, “This failure to make his mother understand hurt much worse than being slammed into the gutter by Gard Jagermeyer…” The concern of Richie’s mother is certainly understandable, for glasses are expensive, and Richie’s father (as the breadwinner) would have had to work extra hours to replace them! But Richie was hoping to find compassion and understanding from his mother.
And, while I’m talking about Richie’s mother, I wrote an exclamation point by something on page 366, which talks about what Richie’s mother was thinking about Richie and Bill:
“I don’t understand either of them, she thought. Where they go, what they do, what they want…or what will become of them. Sometimes, oh sometimes their eyes are wild, and sometimes I’m afraid for them and sometimes I’m afraid of them. She found herself thinking, not for the first time, that it would have been nice if she and Went could have had a girl as well, a pretty blond girl she could have dressed in skirts and matching bows and black patent-leather shoes on Sundays. A pretty little girl who would ask to bake cupcakes after school and who would want dolls instead of books on ventriloquism and Revell models of cars that went fast. A pretty little girl she could have understood.”
This took me aback because I expect parents to be unconditionally loving and approving of their children, and so it seems out-of-place to me when a parent—particularly a mother—is scared of her own son and deems him to be so inadequate that she wants a daughter. But I’m probably speaking from my own sheltered experience.
4. The Hanlons are the only African-American family in Derry, Maine, and Will Hanlon is Mike Hanlon’s Dad. On pages 668-670, Will has a talk with his son about how he should be careful in a world in which many don’t like African-American people. This scene reminded me of the Family Matters episode, “Fight the Good Fight” (see here—though the YouTube video no longer works), in which Laura is the victim of racism when she tries to start an African-American History class at her school. Her parents, Carl and Harriett, are broken by the incident, and they realize that they cannot shelter their daughter from the realities of racism in the world, as much as they’d like to do so. Many of us would like to think that our parents are God-like oracles, who are above the unfairness of the world, and who can protect us from it. But, like a lot of human beings, they, too, are its victims, and sometimes all they can do is share their experience.
While I’m talking about Will Hanlon, on page 455, Will on his deathbed is telling his son Mike about an incident that occurred when he was a young man in the military: the burning of an African-American night-club by white racists (who were prominent in the Derry community). Before he arrives at that part of the story, however, Will discusses his social life with his friends: “Oh, you could pick up a woman at any pig, you didn’t even have to work at it that hard—there was a lot of them wanted to find out if a slice off’n the rye loaf was any different—but to kids like me and Trevor Dawson and Carl Roone, my friends in those days, the thought of buying a whore—a white whore—that was something you had to sit down and consider.”
Mike then narrates about this: “As I’ve told you, he was heavily doped that night. I don’t believe he would have said any of that stuff—not to his fifteen-year-old son—if he had not been.”
And, with that, I’ll close this post about parents being human!