Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Parents

The year was 1968...

North Vietnam launches the Tet offensive, the beginning of the end for the US in Vietnam. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy are assassinated. Apollo 8 becomes the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon.

And possibly the most important event of all: the union of Ken Elterich and Marie Farr. 

Although this event went largely unnoticed by the general public, it set off a chain of events that would change world history, most notably, 12 years later when their youngest son was born.


I grew up extremely privileged. I don’t necessarily mean economically, although my family was firmly in the middle class and I never really wanted for anything. The biggest privilege in my life, beyond a financial safety net that I can still rely on if necessary, is that I never had to look far for role models. I didn’t have to figure out how to treat others or respect myself, I didn’t have to be told by frustrated employers how to work hard, and I didn’t have to learn how to take pleasure in the joys of life; I was shown all of that from day one. Even before I knew what a role model was, I was provided with two incredible models of virtue.

Growing up I always considered my mom and dad as one unit: “The Parents.” That was the entirety of their identity to me. That is probably typical for kids, but it also reflected their relationship. They had their own interests and participated in separate activities (golf for my dad, ceramics for my mom, etc.) yet they acted as one when it came to everything else. They were a unified force, which didn’t exactly help me whenever I messed up. I knew I was dealing with the tag team. There was no playing one against the other. My only hope was to try to put some of the blame on my brother.

As I got older, I appreciated them more as individuals. My mom the teacher, my dad the…well, whatever he did for work (Joking. Kinda.) Beyond being a good employee/boss, he was also a coach and a good friend. Both of my parents were good friends, not just to each other, but to many people. That is one of the things I’m most grateful for: learning how to treat people.

When I was a senior in high school, I agreed to go to my friend’s prom with his girlfriend’s best friend. A week later, I started dating someone. I wanted out of my friend’s prom. My mom, without forcing a decision on me, told me that it would not be right to back out of a promise I made just because “something better came along.” She didn’t lecture me, she just said how it would make the other girl feel (I knew she was onto something when my girlfriend actually understood as I explained why I was going to prom with someone else). My mom was good at instilling guilt. In fact, both of my parents were. When I got in trouble, they always said they weren't mad, just disappointed. Ugh. How could I express righteous indignation at their treatment of me if they didn’t get mad? If they yelled and screamed, I could’ve just raged against them and felt better about myself because obviously I didn’t deserve their anger. But disappointment? There’s no response to that, except to do better.

Obviously, as a teen, there were times when I wasn’t too fond of my parent’s decisions, like moving to West Hartford, but ultimately I recognized that every decision was made in the best interest of me, my brother, and/or the whole family. I clearly got a better education in West Hartford than I would have in Hartford.

Besides the typical teen angst, though, I always saw my parents as infallible. I may have acted as if I didn't want to hear what they had to say, but that's because I knew they were right about whatever they were telling me and I would have to change my behavior.

They always did the right thing. They always seemed to be on the right side of any social issues. They traveled and worked and spent quality time with family and friends. They lived life, and continue to live it, how it is supposed to be lived.

When my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I couldn’t accept that my mom was going to be affected by this horrible disease. Not her. Not the woman who spent her life teaching special education in the inner city in the 90s. She didn't deserve this, and she was too strong for this. My grandmother had a friend who had Parkinson’s and I just couldn’t imagine her as frail as he was. I was scared, and I think I’ve been scared ever since.

But not her. At least, not on the surface. It's like nothing changed. She’s been on more vacations this year than I’ve been on this decade. She is too strong for this.

And my dad has been right there with her. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t think I could do it. I can barely handle it as is. I am overwhelmed by their strength.

49 years later, they are stronger than ever, as a couple and as individuals.

It's inspiring. And a little upsetting, too, because seriously? How can I live up to that? Come on.

My mom just got surgery on her spine. For the first time possibly ever, she admitted to being in a lot of pain. And for the first time definitely ever, she seemed scared. Maybe I’m projecting. Probably.

Despite any reservations, she went ahead with the surgery. A friend told her she was courageous, and she just replied, “It’s not courage, I just want the pain to go away.” She’d never acknowledge that she is extraordinary, because to her, her actions are ordinary. There’s a problem, it needs to be solved. That’s how she, and my father, have always been. There’s nothing else to do but deal with it.

What's the other option? Be crippled by pain? Curl up and die? No. Handle it. Get the surgery to fix the back. Take the experimental Parkinson's medicine that may not even help you but might make a breakthrough that could help thousands of others. Fear is just another emotion like happiness. It’s okay to be afraid, just don't let it stop you from moving forward.

I write this knowing full well that I’m afraid and not dealing with it very well. But sometimes faking it till you make it is the best thing you can do. Worrying doesn't accomplish anything. Things will happen or they won't. Move forward.

49 years together. More than a decade longer than I've been alive. The Parents. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, except their only superpower is love. 

UPDATE 6/27/17, 5:55pm: My mom is in Recovery and doing well.

I Love You All, Especially "The Parents"...Class Dismissed.

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