(This post was originally published 09/10/2011 but due to a recent conversation on just this subject, I thought it might be okay to re-post.)
On Wednesday morning as I swung my feet over the edge of the bed to get up, I had this thought: You don’t have to act out your mom and dad’s playbook. You are not Fred and you are not Blanche. You are Consuelo. You have your own authentic impetus and that impetus is untainted by the desire to show love for your parents by imitating their behavior.
My father was born in Ramallah, the only Christian village in Palestine located ten miles north of Jerusalem. In those years, the Turks ruled the area from Constantinople. When World War I began, the Turkish army took over the village. He had to leave his home with his family, travel across the Jordan River and wait out the war in a convent where his aunt was a nun. When I say he had to travel across the Jordan, I don’t mean by a boat. They strapped all of their possessions on donkeys and crossed the river on foot. The currents were strong and some of their stuff got lost and he became temporarily separated from his family. Maybe he lost his favorite whistle or wooden soldier in the water,I don't know, but those early experiences left him an emotional cripple. As an adult he joined his jovial brother, Charles, in Washington D.C. and became a very wealthy man but always chose to live in a contracted way. He stuck close to his home, never learned to drive, spoke little and swept his own store (my father and uncle owned the boutique department store, Jean Matou, in Washington D.C.) As I’ve written before, my father once refused to take Bess Truman’s check. When Mrs. Truman said, “But Mr. Saah, I live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” my father replied, “I don’t care where you live, we don’t take checks.” My Uncle Charlie, the emotional opposite of his brother, had to take him aside and knock some sense into him.
My father hid behind a quiet, modest life so no one would approach him and ask for anything. His money did not enhance his life; he used it as a protective wall. What he gave up was emotional engagement. What he also gave up was self-celebration. What he gave up was elation and joy.
My mother, although born into near poverty, thought she was a princess because her long gone father was a Frenchman and her skin was so white (in a family of olive skinned siblings) they named her Blanca. I never lived with my mother but from time to time, she would show up and look me over to see if there was any way I could enhance her life. The only time I was near my mother was when we traveled by bus from Mexico to Washington, D.C. where she deposited me with my father and five uncles. I remember that trip. I remember how my mother took care of herself, applying and re-applying lipstick throughout the day.
On this morning in early September, I created a clear and concise message to my subconscious. I spoke to that point of consciousness that engenders all action. Rules to live by: Going forward from this nanosecond, I cast off the need to be afraid of engagement (fear was Dad’s default setting); and the need (though beautifully masked) to act out of false pride (treat me like a queen or go away was Mom’s default setting). I’m free to act from my own fresh point of view.