It turns out that if you google “turning into my parents,” you get a lot of previously written material, including a New Yorker article published last week entitled “Becoming Them.” But as near as I can tell – the latter article requires a subscription – the topic usually revolves around men turning into their fathers and women turning into their mothers. Everything from habits to quirks to simply looking into the mirror and seeing an aged, familiar face staring back at you – we’re constantly reminded of who we came from.
I have the somewhat dubious distinction of turning into both of my parents. This became clear during a recent vacation on Oahu.
Let’s start with my mother, from whom, I have often said, I inherited the cranky gene. Between the time she retired and the time she died, my mother managed to see a good deal of the world – not too bad for a girl whose father had been a Russian immigrant who didn’t speak English.
However, I’m not so sure she enjoyed it. She returned from one round-the-world cruise complaining that Bali – cited by both Travel & Leisure and the BBC as one of the world’s most beautiful islands – was dirty and smoggy. She once took a tour of Iceland and Greenland that departed from Minneapolis; the highlight of that trip was a pre-tour side trip to the headwaters of the Mississippi.
My father, from whom I apparently inherited the work-ethic gene, in the years before he retired told me that work had become more fun and fun had become more work. As we left Honolulu International Airport in a rented car, aided by what may have been the stupidest, most incoherent directions Yahoo Maps ever put together, I began to understand the latter comment. We were supposed to be on vacation, heading to a resort, but the directions seemed more appropriate to some sort of sadistic treasure hunt.
We finally found our way to our lodging on Kaneohe Bay, on the windward side of Oahu. My mother would have had a field day with this place. Only in its dreams could it be called a resort. I soon realized why it insisted on payment upon check-in: the walls were made of rice paper and the floors of cardboard – and that was in a building that had supposedly just been renovated. To give you an idea of how badly managed it was, the rooms had coffee makers but no coffee filters. Nor did they think this was a problem.
As for becoming my father, like I am now, he was self-employed. My most vivid memory of him as a child was him leaving. He never explained that, being in real estate, he had to work when his clients were available. It didn’t make sense to a five-year-old, but now that I’m in my 50s, it’s painfully clear – if you don’t work, the mortgage doesn’t get paid.
I had one ongoing project that I simply could not put on hold while I was vacationing. It only took about fifteen minutes a day to handle, but it had to be done every day; it involved checking a group of Web sites for articles relating to a client and leaving comments relating to the client’s products. If it sounds like shilling, it is, and that’s why I don’t enjoy it and I’ve decided not to accept any more assignments like it.
But here’s the weird thing. In Hawaii, I looked forward to it. For fifteen minutes a day, usually early in the morning while my spouse still slept, I was working. I was connected. I had my fingers on the pulse of the life that took place at my desk back home and it was pumping through my veins. I told myself that I was doing work that helped pay for the vacation. But it was more than that. Like my father before me, I had evolved to the point that work had become fun.
In my own defense, I only kept my head down to the keyboard for those few minutes, and work went undone for the rest of the day. We didn’t – as my mother probably would have – forfeit our payment in disgust. The other idiocies notwithstanding, the view across the bay was drop-dead gorgeous, and there was a hotel cat that sat in our laps every morning.
But the experience reminded me that, as much as we try to create lives separate and distinct from our parents, our efforts are never wholly successful.