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woman who reads too much

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11:24 pm: abusive family dynamics
When I was little, maybe five or six, I knew that a cheetah was an ape. I also knew that a cheetah was a spotted cat, the fastest land animal. For a long time, both facts existed without collision, because one of them was true at home, and the other was true at school. Eventually I noticed the contradiction and figured out that the incorrect fact came from the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies.

I tried to tell my dad, who was the one who liked the Tarzan movies. (My dad is not a native speaker of English, but I didn't realize that that was relevant. I knew his first language was Spanish, but I didn't really understand that. I remember not being able to understand why he hadn't been teased about his name, which was Joaquín.
"Didn't kids call you Joaquín Walking Down The Street?"
"No, because where I grew up, that would have been said, 'Joaquín, caminando por la calle'. It isn't funny."
Did not compute.)

Anyway, I tried to tell him that a cheetah was a cat, and he said no, a cheetah was a monkey, and I said I used to think that, because Tarzan called his friend Cheetah, but "Cheetah" was just Cheetah's name. The kind of animal he was was a chimpanzee. And my dad said no, a chimpanzee was a different kind of monkey, bigger than a cheetah, almost as big as a man. And I went away and thought. How did I know that a cheetah was a cat, given that some people said one thing and some said the other? Books! I realized. All the books said that a cheetah was a cat. So I got Volume C of the World Book Encyclopedia and brought it to my dad. He looked at it, and-- and this was not all that many minutes after our first conversation-- and said, "You see, I was right, a cheetah is a cat."
"No, daddy, I said a cheetah was a cat. You said a cheetah was a monkey."
"No, you thought a cheetah was a monkey. You said you learned that from the Tarzan movies."
I argued, he yelled at me for being arrogant, for always needing to be right. I ran away crying. He yelled after me that I was crying because I couldn't stand being wrong.

My mother said that what really happened didn't matter: what mattered was that I should have known better than to correct him. Ever. And even if I was sure that I was thinking that a cheetah was a cat when I went to get the book, I couldn't be sure that I hadn't said it the wrong way around. And if I was so smart, why couldn't I learn not to say things to Dad that made him angry?

Well, my dad was always a little bit angry (except when he was very angry) and I was always a little bit afraid (except et cetera), but I have always been stupid about feelings and I never did learn how to avoid setting him off.

I was reminded of this by amaebi's observations on conversational rules of correction. Rules are helpful. Rules I can learn.

This entry was originally posted at http://boxofdelights.dreamwidth.org/252358.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Comments

[User Picture]
From:plasticsturgeon
Date:July 19th, 2014 06:17 am (UTC)
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It took me a long time to learn that the always-almost-boiling-over people are just going to boil over every so often, whether or not you nudge the pot.
[User Picture]
From:boxofdelights
Date:July 19th, 2014 07:19 am (UTC)
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That is true.
[User Picture]
From:amaebi
Date:July 19th, 2014 11:07 am (UTC)
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Yes, they seem to like it. And often take pride in it.

And then there are those who aren't constantly almost-boiling-over, but who are when they're in a bad humour....
[User Picture]
From:amaebi
Date:July 19th, 2014 11:07 am (UTC)
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Of course, I happen to think the rules suck, and even now that I seem to have figured them out I intend to go on transgressing them just as when I was completely oblivious.
[User Picture]
From:lookfar
Date:July 20th, 2014 06:03 am (UTC)
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I'm pretty sure that when you were raising Mungo and .. I forget your other kid's magic name... you used your experience of being treated unfairly to make sure that you didn't use your age and power to make your child wrong so you could feel right.

This isn't just a thing that happened because of Asperger's. My dad did it to us, too. Okay, well, I think he had Asperger's, but I did not and I could never figure out what the heck made him mad. If he was tense, you got in trouble for touching the sun visor in the car. Sometimes. If you said something that reminded him that he did not consider himself an economic success or a good use of potential, you got a big honking lecture about your ingratitude. He was just a minefield of anger and blame a lot of the time, and when not that, a big swamp of narcissistic need. I don't see how any kid could navigate that in a way that didn't feel awful.
[User Picture]
From:boxofdelights
Date:August 1st, 2014 06:56 am (UTC)
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you used your experience of being treated unfairly to make sure that you didn't use your age and power to make your child wrong so you could feel right

I certainly tried.

[User Picture]
From:rozasharn
Date:July 21st, 2014 11:32 am (UTC)
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I notice that those rules also describe a lot of mothering conversations I hear about these days, with the exception that mothering discussions don't usually involve jokes or quotations. But that basic premise of 'we must be in agreement; there can be only one correct way; asserting different opinions or preferences equals criticism and is intolerable' is the same.
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