July is when I think about my parents the most. They were both born in July of the same year. They also both died in July— my mother 25 years ago, and my father just last year. I’m still coming to terms with my father’s passing, and I still miss my mother. I’m sure I always will.
Since my focus here is entertainment, I’ve been thinking about what entertained my parents. The list of what they didn’t enjoy seems longer than what they did. Neither of them were readers, and my father in particular hated fiction. He told me he didn’t understand why anybody would waste their time reading about made-up lives, so his books were encylopedias and a set of “the great books.” They weren’t theatre goers, even though they came to all of the plays that I worked on as a theatre major, out of a sense of duty more than interest. They took us to family movies when we were growing up, but I don’t recall them seeing many movies on their own. We watched plenty of television, but I was the only one glued to the set. I often felt like I was being raised by an entirely different species.
My father loved classical music and opera. He would come home from work, go into his bedroom to get away from the sound of the television, and blast his opera at full volume. Sometimes the neighbors complained. I often did. I like classical music now that I’m an adult, and I like the spectacle of opera when I see it live, but I didn’t inherit his passion for it.
My mother loved Days of Our Lives. Every day she’d have to tell me what happened on “her story.” She started watching the soap in 1972, during one of the most traumatic times of her life. I can understand, looking back, how losing herself in that TV world would be a welcome break from her own. Mom also belonged to a “craft-of-the-month” club. Every month she would get a pre-fabricated craft with all the necessary parts and detailed instructions. They required so much time and effort, and I marveled at her patience doing them. She would sit at the table for hours, holding two pieces of wood together while the glue dried. She rarely kept anything for herself, so our relatives received a confusing array of papier-mache vases, framed pictures of Model-Ts formed from tiny metal parts, and cutesy holiday centerpieces. My mother’s favorite entertainment, by far, was people-watching. All we had to do was take her to a place with lots of people and sit her down.
Both my parents came from blue collar backgrounds. My mother had a couple years of college, and my father graduated with a degree in architecture. They wanted the best for their kids, like any good parents, and that included introducing my brother and me to the arts. I took dancing lessons; we both took music, drama and art classes. It was all well and good, until I decided to make theatre my profession. My father had strong objections, since he wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. To this day, I don’t understand why parents freak out when their kids decide to become musicians or artists. Don’t give me a guitar or a paintbrush, or take me to the theatre, if you don’t want me to love it!
My career in theatre fizzled before it ever really started, and it was partly because of my mother’s death and my father’s reaction to it. I fell in love with theatre the very first time I was taken to a show, a production of Oklahoma when I was about five. When my mother got ill, I started to use theatre as an escape from all the problems at home. When you use something you love to avoid something terrible in your life, it becomes tainted, always associated with whatever you were trying to escape from.
When you lose a parent when you’re a teenager, you also lose the chance to atone for being a rotten, selfish adolescent. You can spend your life trying to become a person they would have liked, or you can forgive yourself. I wasted a lot of time on the former, and I’m still working on the latter.
Happy Birthday, Mom and Pop, and God bless you both.
Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them. ~Oscar Wilde