woman who reads too much (boxofdelights) wrote,
woman who reads too much
boxofdelights

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.
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