My mother was one of those mothers you would call a matriarch. She ruled our house through manipulation, a vicious temper and an insatiable need for attention. She treated my father with contempt.
I was born in the 80’s and raised on a large dairy farm. I have a sister and a brother. When I was 5 I spent a month in Hospital and my mother visited me everyday even though the hospital was 30 kilometres from where we lived. By the time I was leaving my mother knew all of the nurses and doctors personally and I am sure they all thought she was a fantastic person. As a result of being sick I started school late and had to work hard to catch up. My mother sat with me every night going over and over my maths homework. To this day I remember her saying ” no son of mine is going to be bad at maths”.
My brother was not academic but she insisted he did his homework every night even if it took him hours. My sister, the rebel among us fought with her night and day, doing nothing she was told. During the Summer holidays we were all given jobs on the farm and if we didn’t do them their was war.
One of the things she specialised in was undermining my father who was a quiet, farmer type who in many ways just wanted a simple life. She did the books for the farm and would be consistently criticising his spending or lack of ability to drive a hard bargain. Any time we wanted something or to go somewhere she would say things like ” well we can’t afford it and you can blame your father for that”.
Whenever there was trouble in school my mother would step in immediately and make a drama. One time she went to the school and in front of the entire class told the teacher that if he laid another hand on me she would sue him. I was jeered about this for six months. She spent every waking hour pushing us to do our homework or arranging our day. I would come home from school and be told “I’ve joined you in the local basketball club and I know you will be great.”The common theme of these activities was she knew the person running them and wanted to show off how good her kids were.
Through all of this my father took a back seat. He avoided conflict and when he could, had a quiet word with us about something. As young children he was in many ways irrelevant to us and as teenagers he was an embarrassment.
When I went to secondary school my life changed. I was bright and did well and began to distance myself from home. As I became more and more independent my mother became more and more angry. She tried to interfere at every opportunity but at this stage I had had enough. Going to college finalised the break. Throughout my teenage years my dominant feeling was one of anger and guilt. At times I felt I had let her down and at other times I found it difficult to contain my anger.
Interestingly during my college years I became closer to my dad who would visit me on his trips to the city and we ‘d have a pint together. I have come to respect him alot more now.
I feel that I am an emotionally strong person, if a little hard. My girlfriend says that I am emotionally retentive and she is probably right. I can be a vicious person when somebody crosses me, but it takes a lot to get me this angry. What I have going for me is a good sense of myself and my feelings. Deep down I feel I am a decent person and I know how to enjoy life. There is no doubt that my mother, through her tough love, has contributed to this. So also perhaps has my father through his role modelling of tolerance and sacrifice.
When I reflect on my childhood I feel like the survivor of a war, the casualties of which are my brother and sister. Their lives are still completely dominated by my mother and in my view they are psychologically damaged as a result. Then again maybe it’s me who is damaged, who really knows.