You were going to tell me about your parents…
Yes, and I’m glad you asked.
My parents are dedicated to promoting an image of themselves which is firmly based on the rewriting of our family’s history.
Why do they do this, do you think?
It’s brutally simple – they’re committed to characterising my sister and I as villains, and themselves as virtuous, immaculate.
Then you’re talking about misrepresentation.
Yes. Relentless misrepresentation.
I’m trying to think of their most outrageous lie to date, but then they’re all pretty outrageous. Their favourite one is to tell people that I “walked out of their lives” in 1991 and “abandoned” them for twenty-five years.
There’s no truth in that at all?
No, none whatsoever! It’s the most sublime fiction. The truth is that they banished me for twenty-five years because I wouldn’t agree to look after New College for a few days while they went on holiday at the end of December 1991.
They ostracised you for twenty-five years? Just for that? It seems a bit harsh.
It’s par for the course where my parents are concerned. They’ve completely erased many friends and relatives from their lives, often for much less.
It’s what they do when they don’t get precisely what they want, when they want it.
They banish people. Erase them.
Hold on though! Lying and misrepresentation is a fact of life. We’ve all been on the receiving end of it at one time or another.
Sure we have.
So what’s your problem then?
My problem is that this misrepresentation is a ceaseless campaign of character assassination by my own parents. Can you believe that? My own parents! I don’t think I’m alone in saying that parents can get inside their children’s minds like nobody else.
Mum & dad’s lies careen around my head until my brain aches. I can hear their voices constantly, even in their absence – judging, condemning, accusing, blaming, demoralising, criticising, hating, lying. They spread their lies thickly at every opportunity. Their voices are with me all the time.
And they play mind games. They mess with my mind.
They’re cruel. They’re barbaric. They’re evil.
Wow! Evil? You’re really describing your parents as evil?
Yeah, I had to think hard about using that word before saying it. But now that I’ve commited myself, it feels … right. It actually feels exactly right.
You’d better give me an example. In fact, you’d better give me lots of examples. You can’t go using a word like ‘evil’ without a good deal of justification.
Well I’ll start with dad’s reaction to the email which I sent him in January 2017. It’s in the post entitled The Reason for this Blog.
That’s the one where you apologised for your nervous breakdown in 1972?
I know it seems a bit ridiculous to apologise for something that was outside my control, and happened so long ago, but mum and dad have always held it against me. They still regard it, to this day, as a deliberate attempt to thwart mum’s ambitions and disrupt their lives.
I’m not sure I believe you!
So why DID you apologise?
Because we’re all going to die one day.
It’s that simple.
I thought that this might be a way to put things right before we all expire. If I gave them what they wanted, and met them half-way, then perhaps they would do likewise.
And how did they reply to your email?
Dad replied with this:
My parents call me “Tony”, although most people call me “Bill”.
If you say so.
Yes, you were both delightful children when you were pre teenage - in fact you were so good that your Mother said we would have trouble with you both at some stage and she was quite right. Unfortunately we were never allowed to know what the trouble was with you because we were told by the psychiatrist that it was none of our business, so we had to do the best we could without any help or guidance.
What’s wrong with that?
It’s a textbook example of how my parents are able to take an event, any event, and subtly reconfigure it into an opportunity to apportion blame. It’s pretty much standard fare for them – distortion and misdirection.
But he describes you and Marianne as having been delightful children!
Yes he does.
Although look at how this description is immediately followed by an abrupt left turn. Our unproblematic childhood becomes the reason for mum to predict that we’ll cause them trouble later on. Blow me down, but he then goes on to commend her for such an absurd disconnect.
Plus, he avoids mentioning that our transition to teenagers happened at around the same time as mum and dad became the proprietors of New College School. (This happened in 1970 when I was thirteen and Marianne was ten.)
Are you suggesting that their acquisition of New College School was responsible for this … umm … trouble?
What I’m suggesting is that dad is carefully curating his account of our shared history because HE believes it was responsible.
I think you’re reading too much into it.
No, I’m not.
What you have to understand is that…
That’s a terrible way to introduce an argument!
You just said “What you have to understand is…”, and I completely switched off the moment you said it.
Ah I see what you mean. It’s like when someone says “Look!” before patronisingly telling you what’s what.
Exactly! Maybe you should try again.
I’m so familiar with the way dad uses language…
… that I can directly link those words to his intonations, his facial expressions, his emotional position.
I can hear him begrudging the words “delightful children”. I can see his strained resentment at being forced to say something decent to match the sentiment of my original email. I’m watching as he escapes this straightjacket of decency by grasping at the idea that our childhood personae were merely a portent of “trouble” to come.
And finally, I hear the triumph in his voice as he says “quite right”, having arrived at his desired destination – Marianne and I are wrong, and they are right.
Hmmm! Well it isn’t unusual for intra-family communications to have all kinds of loaded remarks flying around.
Absolutely! Remarks whose meanings are impenetrable to an outsider.
But dad has an intrinsic, almost supernatural, unpleasantness which I don’t think he’s capable of concealing. He can’t stop it from spilling out into his words.
So what was the nature of the “trouble” that he mentions?
In my case, he’s referring to my nervous breakdown. Mum and dad refuse to acknowledge words such as “mental illness” or “breakdown” or “depression”. They prefer to call it “trouble”.
Dad, in particular, frequently made a point of describing it to me as “All That Trouble You Caused”.
He must be talking about all this in his second paragraph.
Yes, he is.
That second paragraph is so awash with lies that it’s grotesque. He’s talking about the couple of weeks in the summer of 1972 when I was a patient in the psychiatric ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. I had just made a second attempt at committing suicide, and was very nearly successful.
Is ‘successful’ the right word to use in this context?
You know perfectly well what I mean.
Anyway … he’s saying that the psychiatrists knew what was wrong with me, but told mum and dad that it was none of their business.
Does that sound plausible to you? Is it likely that a medical professional would say “It’s none of your business.”?
Maybe your father is misunderstanding the principle of patient confidentiality.
Is he bollocks! He’s trying to justify mum’s decision to take me out of hospital, despite the clinical advice that I should have remained there for a few more months.
Which means that, contrary to dad’s account, my parents unilaterally CHOSE not to find out what the trouble was. When I was clearly a danger to myself!
Do bear in mind, though, that this was 1972. Mental illness wasn’t as well understood then as it is now.
That’s true! It was still The Dark Ages for this kind of thing. You would be likely to hear phrases such as ‘Pull yourself together‘, ‘Snap out of it‘, ‘It’s all in the mind‘, none of which were particularly helpful.
But also bear in mind that dad’s email was written in 2017. Mum and dad have only ever been interested in one thing – exonerating themselves and blaming others.
That’s what they do. That’s all they care about.
What was your mother’s reason for taking you out of hospital?
She had two reasons.
Firstly, she wanted to send me back to school to take my ‘O’ Level exams.
Secondly, she had gathered the impression that the psychiatrists were blaming her for my mental condition.
So she was prioritising her own interests over yours.
You took the words right out of my mouth.
Something’s puzzling me though. Why do your parents disdain words such as “mental illness” and so on?
That’s easy to explain. If mental illness were a genuine illness, it would admit the possibility that mum was wrong to discharge me from hospital.
Mum is never wrong.
That’s ridiculous! No-one can go through their entire life being perpetually right.
You’re going to say more about this later on, aren’t you.
Thought so! Can I see the next part of your father’s reply now?
Here it is:
Marianne told me in her last telephone call before she put the phone down on me that you both had horrendous teenage years, a scenario that I don't recognise considering all the things that were done for you both. Your Mother had two ambitions from when she was about 7 years old - to be a teacher and own her own school both of which she achieved with the latter happening despite the problems she encountered with you and Marianne which undermined rather than helped her.
And what was your reaction to this?
Do you mind if we leave this for our next session? Just the act of copying and pasting those words has made me feel profoundly sick.
Of course! But what shall I do in the meantime?
You can think of some more questions to ask.
And what will you do?
Think of some answers.