If there’s one thing more upsetting than watching your parents get older, it’s doing what you swore you’d never do and watching yourself become like them.
Nobody would confuse me with either of my parents politically, that rebellion still holds, but there are subtle things I picked up in the 19-plus years I lived at home.
From my father, I’ve inherited a handful of physical traits — a hawk nose, body hair, an awkward bone structure not quite suited to sports, and a tendency to snore. But while I can’t change the genes I was handed down, and will hand down to my children with my sincerest apologies, there are some less tangible traits that I’ve inherited that are starting to emerge as I get older.
Like the ability to wear anything at anytime, and not really care what I look like. My dad was never one for observing fashion, and could wear absolutely anything without an ounce of self-consciousness. Once I went to borrow a tie for a school semi-formal, and couldn’t find a single one out of the dozens in his collection that didn’t offend the eye. I wore a cattle skull string tie to that event, and all through high school and university.
I don’t know if my dad had a sense of humour about his clothes like I do — I just don’t think he cared either way.
Another trait I’ve inherited is do-it-yourselfism, which means that I’ll never pay anyone to do anything when there’s an outside chance I can to do it myself (when I get around to it). Like my dad, I don’t even see the need to have the right tools for the job necessarily, and get by with what I have. If that means using a butterknife to turn a screw, or using two butterknives wedged together to tighten a bolt, then so be it.
I’ve also picked up my father’s penchant for bleeding, unaware that I am bleeding, while doing home improvement projects. My dad could bury a chisel in his knee and not notice until he rubbed the bloody fabric of his pantleg against the white wall he just stuccoed.
In the same vein, I’ve also picked up his lack of head awareness. It’s as if he had no idea his head even existed above his eyeballs, and he rang his skull off every cupboard door and piece of furniture in the house. Now I find myself doing the same thing, with the goose eggs to prove it. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit myself on the top of the head with the bike rack while closing the hatchback of our car.
My dad was also a legend at calling people by the wrong name, and using the exact opposite words he meant to use, both traits that I’ve most definitely picked up. One of my dad’s favourite quips was “I’ll never forget old what-his-name”, but never understood until recently why he found it so funny.
There are some traits that I’m not sorry I picked up. My father might have been quick to get angry, but didn’t hold grudges. He was generous, hard working, loyal to friends and family, and knew when to be quiet (which is something I need to practice). He told pretty good stories around the campfire, and always drove in the slow lane.
My mother’s influences are less physically painful but more subtle. Like my mom, I’m a world-class procrastinator, always finding something to do other than the thing I’m supposed to be doing. And, like my mom, I tend to start a lot of projects that don’t tend to get finished.
I’ve also picked up my mom’s habit of tangents, which can make for some interesting arguments. We’ll start off talking about the weather in Toronto, and wind up arguing about the origins of Middle East terrorism. We’re also both addicted to conspiracy theories and skeptical of mainstream accounts.
Another way I’m like my mother is that I don’t accept compliments very well. Tell my mom that her dinner was good, and she’ll tell you five ways it could have been better.
She’s also a very good artist, but she’d never admit it and is far too self critical of herself to acknowledge the fact. She has a gift that maybe one out of every 1,000 people can claim, but still insists on comparing herself to the one artist in a million who is truly great. I’m the same way with guitar, with art, with writing, with my home improvement projects, and everything I do that is even slightly creative.
My mom is also hopelessly frugal most of the time, but will go out and buy something unbelievably expensive and impractical. She has a coat for every occasion, but nothing that would keep out the rain.
I’ve brown-bagged my lunches for the past five years, worn T-shirts until they unraveled on my body, ridden my mountain bike until the aluminum showed through the paint, but even now I’m still eyeing wood flooring for our the house and an Xbox 360.
Luckily I’ve also inherited some of mom’s patience, her temperance, her good humour, and her love of books and reading.
We don’t necessarily become our parents, but the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree either. The least we can all do is to give our parents credit for all the good things.