Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Parenting

What I never wrote to my father

Dear Dad, thenextfamily.com


When it came to disciplining me, my father often referred to several verses in the King James Version of the Bible. One of his key verses was Proverbs 16:18 (KJV):

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

He believed he was responsible for beating pride out of me. From his perspective, my anger proved I was a prideful daughter intent on getting my way. According to him I thought I knew better than he when it came to punishment, rules or decisions.

If I didn’t comply with his will, another proverb told him what to do. I’ve changed the personal pronouns. Proverbs 23:13-14 (KJV) says,

Withhold not correction from the child:
for if thou beatest her with the rod, she shall not die.
Thou shalt beat her with the rod, and shalt deliver her soul from hell.

Before you get angry with my father, think about this: Like many other parents, he passed on what his father did to him. I can’t exonerate him. He  did what he did. He was responsible for what he did; I was not. I do, however, have compassion for him. I know from experience how difficult it is to raise children.

Here’s the so-called Good News Version (TEV) of the same verses in Proverbs 23:13-14:

Don’t hesitate to discipline children.
A good spanking won’t kill them.
As a matter of fact, it may save their lives.

Nonetheless, even a “good spanking” can kill a child’s spirit. Do you or I know a child’s inner spirit? The spirit of this child may be terrified because her main agenda is to grit her teeth and get through whatever you or I decide to do to her vulnerable body.

What is a “good spanking” anyway? Sometimes I needed discipline. Yet I never needed my father’s version of corporal punishment. Corporal humiliation is never a “good spanking.” It’s humiliation of the weak by the powerful. An abuse of power.

Whatever this “good spanking” is about, it isn’t about humiliating a child’s body or spirit. If the point of the proverb is to say parents mustn’t hold back when it comes to disciplining their children, that can be done in other ways.

As an adult, I’m responsible for welcoming children and young teenagers into my life. They’re strangers I’m privileged to get to know and learn to discipline appropriately. It isn’t always easy. Yet hospitality offers another way to relate to them and to myself.

  • Hospitality welcomes children and young people God sends into my life.
  • Hospitality isn’t overbearing and doesn’t make quick assumptions.
  • Hospitality asks questions and listens.
  • Hospitality gets interested in what children and young people think and feel.
  • Hospitality doesn’t pry, or spy on others.
  • Hospitality listens, affirms, and collaborates to solve problems.
  • Hospitality isn’t rude, bossy, impatient or quick to take offense.
  • Hospitality creates and maintains reasonable, healthy boundaries.

In other words, hospitality is the shape of love.

Here’s what I never wrote to my father:

Dear Dad,
Please treat me as a human being created in the image of God. That’s all I want. I don’t want to fight with you or disappoint you. I want to be myself and count on you to help me without humiliating me. I want to be proud of myself and proud of you.
Your first-born daughter,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 November 2015, edited and reposted 20 May 2021
Image from thenextfamily.com

For the Women and Girls

No matter who you are,
No matter how you came to be
where you are,
No matter what you look like
or how many times you’ve said
‘I am a Full Human Being’,
I have old news, though not of great joy.

The fight makes us who we are,
Punches land on our guts,
Especially when we think we’ve
finally arrived in Paradise
rather than make-believe
pie in the sky, someday-soon status
that never arrives on time.

I’m disheartened though not surprised by our lack-luster pursuit of women’s equality in these so-called United States. We’re addicted to finding ways of turning back the tide of women’s rights. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about abortion, equal pay, or who will be the church pastor.

Too many people of ‘good will’ are unwilling to admit girls and women into the ranks of full human beings. Or they don’t know how to do it so everyone has equal rights in the workplace. It’s easier to hire tokens here and there, than to do the right thing for everyone.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, I thought we would get there in my lifetime. Today I’m not so hopeful. At the same time, if you’re a younger woman, and you’re looking for something worth fighting about, join up! It can make you a better, stronger woman, no matter what happens in the unknown future.

Why this post? D and I have been looking through old files from the 1970s. They were related to D’s first teaching job at a Christian college in the South. While he taught and attended endless faculty meeting, I was finding out what it means to be a stay-at-home mom (and so-called “faculty wife”) changing diapers and trying to maintain a semblance of normality.

You can read about my last straw breaking point in Faculty Wife: Part 17.

Despite everything, I’m grateful that those four years shaped me into one of those beautifully irritating women who can’t stop promoting full rights for all human beings.

Happy Monday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 April 2012
Photo found at theeverygirl.com

Memories and Old Photos Revisited

1974 May Sherry's 4th Birthday in Altadena

before my eyes
they swim
in salt water

old photos
fresh with memories

I blink
reluctant to move
my eyes

tears water
my face

 ***

Christmas stockings in Altadena

1974 Christmas Altadena Stocking stuffers Sherry and Scott
Peanut butter sandwiches and milk on the lawn

1974 Feb Scott and Sherry eating on the front lawn Altadena house

Picking cherries in California

 1974 Aug Sherry Cherry picking in California

 Thinking deep thoughts with Rosey Grier

FRASER_S_0099

Not sure what to do with all this snow above Altadena!

1975 Jan Sherry and Scott in the snow San Gabriel Mountains

Shopping with Mom – Note boa (?) on daughter’s arm

1975 Elouise with Sherry and Scott shopping ND
Posing with Mom and Dad on a hot day in Arizona

1975 Sep Family portrait in Arizona

Those were the days!
Beauty and memories captured on camera
Reminders of what endures from generation to generation

Have a happy weekend!
And don’t forget to take a few photos.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 March 2016, reposted 23 August 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, except last photo — taken by D’s mother

An Emptiness

Hollowed out by loneliness
Overflowing with farm animal stories told and retold
Filled with edgy impatience when you were not holding forth
An aching emptiness devoid of compassion or empathy
For yourself or others who pleased you not
Constantly dreaming of unachievable plans and goals
A my way or the highway kind of man
Stalking happiness but rarely finding it in my presence
Convinced the world of regular people was as hollow
As your own unfulfilled plans and dreams
An empty cup unable to overflow
With blessings of praise or the joy
Of looking into your four daughters’ eyes
Without seeing the son you never had
Fighting to the bitter end to have things your way
Surrounded by people who cared for you
Even when you cared not for them
An off-tune cymbal full of noisy clanging
Signifying the agony of your debilitating shame and loneliness

How sad to love a father who never learned to love himself.
How horrifying to hear the bleakness of his life growing up.
How painful to know things might have been different.

I love my father.
I have forgiven him to the extent I’m able.
I am not the Judge of all the earth.
I pray for his soul and his redemption,
and that he is learning in death to love himself
as he has been loved.

This poem is my attempt to describe what I now see in my father. It’s based on my relationship with him from 1943 (the year I was born) until his death in 2010. He was 96 years old, months from turning 97. I was 66, months from turning 67.

Many thanks to Mary Oliver for her poem, A Bitterness. It got me wondering what I might write about my father from my perspective today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2019
Image found at vocal.media

My Daughter My Teacher

‘My daughter my teacher’
The phrase arrives unbidden
Turning it over I find
What was denied
What was forbidden
What was scorned
Though I searched for it with all my heart

What does it mean
To grow up female
Loved
Free of being shamed
Free of control and contempt
That sucks joy and creativity
Out of airways
Leaving a void gasping
Not outgrown or filled
Without pain
And the horror of knowing
It didn’t have to be like this
And it was

Our daughter has been a free, creative spirit from the beginning. I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “I don’t know how this happened.”

How could it be that this painfully shame-driven introverted woman mothered this free introverted spirit who follows her heart no matter what others think?

From the beginning, without shame, she wrote what she heard, saw and felt. She still composes and performs music that come from places I’ve never been—literally, or in my heart.

The truth is simple. I never gave her any of that. That was and is her gift. Her voice. Her creativity. Her vision. Her truth.

And yet, I did give her something. I gave her some of what I was never given. I think it came from my fierce determination to make space for her to be herself and our daughter. All at the same time.

This makes my heart happy and brings a smile to my face. It helps me see some of what I missed growing up. It also gives me a different mirror to consult. The mirror of my mothering. Even though I felt like a bumbling pseudo-mother from time to time.

Thanks for listening!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2018
Photo found at katiedissertation.weebly.com

Misformed and misinformed

Misformed and misinformed
She emerges from childhood
Before its wonders take root

Sheltered from life and herself
Dim vision narrows down
Lest warm rays of truth find her
Huddled in unsafe cellars
Waiting for life to begin
Before it ends

The poem is about me and it’s not only about me.

Yesterday I listened to No Place to Run, a radio rebroadcast of an investigative report into foster care in the USA. The report focused on two young women in Texas. Their stories were eerily similar. I’ve heard similar stories about foster care here in Pennsylvania.

Each young woman (one still a child) was placed in a foster care setting. Both ended up on the streets, abandoned by systems that failed them. And both were betrayed by a political machinery determined to avoid or ignore the need to fund competent, monitored, successful foster care.

I applaud foster care parents who put their hearts and their energy into caring for foster children. I also applaud lawyers, judges and politicians determined to make a difference now, not later, with systems that work for the benefit of foster children and young people.

At the end of the day, however, I wonder whether I’m ready for the full truth about this shadow world. Especially since I’m routinely horrified at the latest revelations, already dressed up for public consumption.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2018
Art found at http://www.revealnews.org

Open Mic Night!

I woke up this morning already excited about this evening. I get to read some of my poems again! Out loud! In front of a friendly audience of children, young people, parents and friends of all ages. In the gym at the church. A fundraiser to help support our young people’s summer project in Philadelphia.

Despite my heavy-duty awesome age, I still feel like a little kid when I share bits of my life by way of my poetry.

I’ve never been one for writing or telling stories. I know a good storyteller when I hear or read one. That means I know I’m not One of Them. Though happy accidents do happen now and then.

Prose has been my main thing for most of my life. Yet I’m more than ready to let it take a back seat to poetry. In fact, when I reread some of my prose, I hear the poet in me already sneaking a poetic spirit into my prose.

I can’t help thinking about Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, “They shut me up in Prose.” None of that flighty poetry stuff! We want to hear a story or a well-reasoned argument. Something we can take apart, piece by piece. Or at least keep under control. To keep you under control, of course.

The ability to write prose with an ear for cadence and choice of words got me where I am today. Not just as a student, educator and administrator, but as an adult woman whose childhood and youth were ruled by a relentlessly letter-of-the law father. Flights of poetic fancy were frowned upon. As were overt emotions spontaneously expressed. With the occasional exception of Christmas and birthdays.

When I read through early posts about my childhood and youth, I’m grateful for the ability to write prose. Yet even there I hear the cadences of poetry. Though it isn’t direct, it’s a persistent sign of life already aching for attention.

So tonight I get to revel in the poet I’m becoming. One step closer to the little girl and woman I am and have always been on the inside.

Am I going to give up prose? No way. I’m not locked up in anything–not in poetry and not in prose. Still, you can expect more poetry. A delightfully underground way of getting just about anywhere.

Cheers!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 July 2018
Image found at resetco.org

Dear Toothfairy,

This morning I happened to open this file, and had more than a good chuckle. It reminds me of many things I love about our adult son Scott, and some of the other stuff, too! Already writ large in this brief but spectacular note is his business-like, relationally savvy approach to life’s little challenges.

Also writ large is his diplomatic determination to turn looming failure into brilliant success. Of course the Toothfairy was moved with compassion. What other option was there, really?

Then again, he never did explain why he didn’t go looking for the clearly missing tooth.

Happy Tuesday!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2018
Photo of Scott and Sherry taken by DAFraser in the early 1970s, Altadena, California

Shaming and Punishing Women

One of my longtime followers, Fran Macilvey, left the following request in response to my recent post, Voices long silent.

I’d like to hear more about your view on “….shaming rituals and periodic public displays of what happens to strong women…” because I’m sure it doesn’t just happen to women, and I’m curious to consider why we do it. What are we frightened of? Disapproval??

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially about how things like this happen to men. At the same time, from my childhood on it seemed women and girls had to be kept in their places. My personal fear wasn’t disapproval. It was harsh punishment. Not just as a child, but even as a professional. It was important to ‘walk the line’ and remember that I was not in charge. Today I might simply walk out. But that freedom didn’t happen overnight.

In a recent telephone conversation with one of my sisters, we talked about ways young boys shamed us at school when we were in the 5th grade. Our father also shamed us at home every time one of us was beaten. I was the prime example of what would happen to my three younger sisters if they dared to live ‘outside’ the lines of what my father considered proper behavior for females.

So we shared our experiences in the 5th grade. Both involved shaming by a male classmate. There was no one safe to talk with us. Not at school, and not at home. Each of us lived with the burden of believing we were the problem. The truth, however, is that our young, developing female bodies were the problem. Not to us, but to the boys who tormented us.

Silence about things like this, when carried for decades and magnified by repeated body shaming is like carrying a dead weight in one’s body and soul. Still, the only safe way to get through was to keep our young mouths shut and just keep going.

I can’t begin to describe the feeling of release I felt because my sister and I had finally dared tell each other about this insult to our souls and bodies.

Then there’s the companion side of this dilemma. Often when women stand up and report harassing behavior, they become the subject of investigation. Maybe it was your clothes, your tone of voice, the look in your eyes, the perfume you wore to work today. Hence the silence of women afraid to report abuse of any kind on the job, at home, in schools and universities, in churches, or even in friendship circles.

I’m not saying all women are as pure as the driven snow. Instead, I’m saying that experiences like this need to be unpacked. Perhaps we can change our behavior. Not because what we’re doing is ‘wrong,’ but because it isn’t putting our own safety first. Often we need trusted friends and qualified psychotherapists to walk with us.

Reading books about how to survive various forms of shaming or PTSD isn’t a bad thing to do. We can learn a lot. Yet there’s that internal stuff that isn’t going to go away because we read a book. Sometimes we need a safe person to hear us out and help us examine our feelings and behaviors without blame or judgment.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 June 2018

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