Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Threshold of Adversity

Quick reference:
Wally's my son.
Doug is his father (my ex)
Carl is my husband now.
That's all you get.
In the midst of all the current drama with Doug & Wally, I've gained an even sharper insight into Doug.

Of the three of us, Wally for certain has come closest to experiencing true adversity. He had to live in his car for a couple of weeks. He was injured in a car wreck and hospitalized with salmonella some years back. And, most obviously, he's experienced the divorce of his parents. Add to that his level of stress at age 18 and I'd definitely give him the highest score for true adversity.

Neither Doug nor I had parents who divorced. However, I lived through 22 years of violence and alcoholic chaos in my formative years and have struggled monetarily.

For a very long time, I was convinced that my childhood was the definition of "dysfunctional." I've gradually come to understand that it wasn't a perfect existence, but by and large, my parents were decent folks with redeeming qualities, and things could have been a great deal worse. My parents shielded me from a lot of common realities of life, the main one being money. As the cliche goes, we were poor, but I didn't know it. At least not until maybe the last couple of years of high school.

Doug had two parents who were absolutely nuts about each other. They were kind toward Doug and his brother Frank -- not indulgent, but certainly not hostile or malicious. Those people just didn't know the meaning of, well, mean. It wasn't in their nature. But at worst, they included Frank, the first-born, in their little circle, and when Doug came along it was sort of a "been there/done that" experience for them. Or to put it a different way, Frank was The Heir. Doug was The Spare. It wasn't glaringly apparent to the casual observer, but Doug was treated as a fairly limp second to Frank. I witnessed this a few times myself, in the way his parents reacted when there was a dilemma. Anything Frank suggested was greeted with smiles and receptive attitudes, while Doug's ideas were looked upon with skepticism. As Doug tells it, Frank got into a bit of trouble in his teens and the parents remained determinedly oblivious to all of it ... only to become belatedly suspicious once Doug reached that age, and begin scrutinizing everything he did, even when he was a young Mr. Clean. Both brothers were pretty bright, but as different as two people could be. Frank was a hippie; Doug was a yuppie, right from the get-go. Frank was, and still is, quite non-materialistic. Doug, however, was IMO hard-wired to lust after money and to take the Scarlett O'Hara attitude that money is the only thing you can depend upon in this world.

Side note: I've been keeping a running list of traits held in common by Doug and my mother -- there are over a dozen of them, and this "money is the only thing that matters in this world" is yet another sentiment that they seem to have shared.

So Doug grew up with the sneaking suspicion that he wasn't loved much for himself. He was the odd man out, physically, in his family, looking like some of his mother's relatives, but not much like his mother, father or brother. He would often bitterly recount how his parents would leave him to get to and from sporting events on his own, either by bus or on foot if he didn't have bus fare, in the dead of winter. His mother had a falling-out with her mother and sisters. Not a violent one, just a decision to avoid each other as much as possible. Doug thought this, too, was some sort of psychic nightmare.

But in truth, he didn't understand real adversity. The family was never anywhere near poor. I applaud Doug and his parents for having what appears to be a natural, Depression-era sense of thrift and money-management. My parents did not have this. I've had to learn it very much the hard way, and have to admit that rather than graduating from The School of Hard Knocks, I've been left back a few times. Right now I'm still in the Remedial program.

I take it somewhat in stride when the money falls short. Since the divorce, I haven't lived in anything approaching an upscale environment. Possibly the last place we lived would be termed lower-middle class, while this neighborhood and others over the last 13 years would be "upper-lower class," with a more intense police presence and an aura of seediness.

The thing about Doug that led to this current battle is, he's been whining his head off about money, and I hear echoes of the guy I was married to for 13 years -- wailing about his idea of poverty, all the while I very much doubt he's ever seen dollar figures in red in his personal ledger. And then I shared my e-mail back to him with the same people he originally wrote to, and he's just outraged. He has enlisted Wally in his efforts to condemn my "bad manners."

In my experience, bad manners take the form of rocks thrown through windows.

Doug just doesn't get it. His threshold of adversity is so low, it's laughable.

Wally is showing tendencies toward ruthlessness, but at least I understand where it comes from. His aforementioned experience with true adversity has brought him out of it with no intentions of living his life on the edge of disaster, and preferring not to have anyone around him (such as his mama) that would tolerate living in such a state.

Adding Carl into the mix, as much adversity as Wally has seen, Carl beats him by many a mile. As I've written here more than once, his family was truly poor. Single mom, six kids, one bathroom, clothes donated or patched (with duct tape in the case of their shoes).

As for me, I don't know whether I'm "complacent," as Doug describes me, or just sufficiently at peace with my place in the world not to frantically fight to attain higher ground.

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