So the molds were formed, the dies cast…
When I was nine, I bruised my foot by stepping on a jagged stone. In typical childish fashion, I wrapped a jump rope around the foot and held the two rope ends with my hands, limping across the breezeway of our house with my homemade "crutch". Granted I was rather like Sarah Bernhardt (an actress whose name I have often used to mock overly exaggerated performance, except my label for over-dramatization has always been "Sarah Heartburn".) However, I was a kid at the time and not typically given to drama.
My father, noticing my childlike behavior, yelled up to me from his yardwork, "What the hell are you doing?"
Instantly feeling foolish and embarrassed, I replied ashamedly, "I hurt my foot."
To which Henry snorted with laughter, "That’s stupid. You look ridiculous!"
…words I would adopt to describe many of my actions and my very self. The message was clear and understood: Don’t be childish, don’t be silly, and don’t be playful. Be mature, be serious, be quiet. Charting the future course of our children is a frightening responsibility! Sadly, a baby does not exit the womb and hand mom a user manual! Instead, we just forge ahead, flummoxed, with fingers crossed. I know that my parents did what they thought best and would be horrified to read my words today. However, stressing that I should be quiet, serious and mature at all times, and that I should not be silly or playful, molded me into a serious, mature person who neither learned nor valued, and often scoffed at, the art of play.
I am Anna Park. My life began in 1944 in a small town on the outskirts of Indianapolis, Indiana, to Marie, my then 36-year-old mother, and Henry, my 33-year-old father. My parents had waited ten years before starting a family because of financial hardships borne of World War II and leftover Depression-era concerns. My father, an accountant by education, was extremely frugal, and both of my parents, with roots in lower-middle-class families, had learned the importance of being responsible in their spending.
As is so often the case, once Henry and Marie agreed the time had come to start a family, Marie could not conceive. Also common, just as the couple began adoption proceedings, Marie became pregnant with me. Two years after I was born, Marie miscarried, and two years later, Marie delivered a second daughter, Diane. Henry had always envisioned having two daughters, reasoning that boys grew up to be "dirty old men", and so his wish for two daughters had come true. I never stopped wondering why he imagined males that way, and I believe his thinking left a lasting impression on me.
Henry treated me, his firstborn daughter, as though I were a treasured possession to be proudly displayed to his world. When I was just a toddler, he took great pleasure in toting me along to his frequent watering hole, known by all the locals as "The Tavern". While he downed the traditional three, four, or more beers, I would be perched on the bar for all of Henry’s drinking buddies to celebrate, rather like a new tackle box or golf club. An adorable little princess amid a sea of dirty old men!
A trip to The Tavern was at least a weekly occurrence, and only rarely was Marie invited to accompany Henry. The Tavern was Henry’s domain, where he was held in high esteem, where his newest "accomplishment", his tiny new daughter, was admired and praised.
Being four years apart in age, my sister and I were not really close and were quite different, as was the parenting of each of us. Much was expected of me, while somewhat less attention was paid to Diane. With such high expectancy concerning me came considerable pressure, both actual and perceived. Pressure to perform. Pressure to be perfect. Diane mostly flew under the radar. And so the molds were formed, the dies cast. For two lifetimes.
From the beginning, we girls were expected to address our parents as "Daddy" for Henry and "Mother" for Marie. Marie made it clear that she did not care for the designation "Mom", insisting she not be referred to as that. Looking back, I realize it was fitting to call her the more formal "Mother", since the affable, informal terms of "Mommy", "Mom" and "Mama" never would have seemed appropriate. I have always been a bit envious of mother-daughter relationships where the mother is called Mommy or Mama, at times into adulthood. I suppose that sounds silly to some, but I see it as warm and affectionate. I secretly wished that I had seen my mother as "mommy" and that she had wanted to be that to me.
With each passing year of my childhood and into my teenage years, the expectations increased, as did parental disappointment and recrimination, not to mention my anxiety and ever-sinking self-esteem. From the time I was a tiny child, the messages conveyed to me were always clear and always understood. If I were upset, showed anger (or any emotion), the response from my father was always, "If you’re going to act that way, go to your room!" or "If you’re going to cry, go to your room!" I do not even once recall hearing, "What’s the matter?" or "Honey, why are you so upset?"
The "List of Rules" grew. Lesson learned: Childishness, playfulness, crying or showing any emotion equated to ridiculous, wrong, stupid. No one cared why I was upset or angry or sad or anything. Being emotional required that I stow the feelings on an invisible SHELF which apparently existed somewhere in my room.