This Be Some News For Philip Larkin

Liyu+Liubo

Everyone I know and everyone you know can quote the first line of This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin, a poem he wrote in 1971.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

That one line has served as gospel for at least two generations.  It validates adolescent resentment like nothing else. See, a famous poet says you fucked us up, you fuckers. It’s official.

And of course they do, your mum and dad. Because everyone is fucked up, and everything starts at home, where grown ups can make random rules because you are powerless.

If only they’d been more affectionate or less affectionate, more involved or less involved, more attentive or less smothering, if only they’d fought less or fought more. Or as Larkin complains,

They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

Philip Larkin followed his own advice and didn’t have kids. So he never discovered a consecutive truth that parents learn the hard way. They fuck you up, your kids.

They fuck you up in small ways or in ways that crush you. They rob you of sleep and peace of mind, for starters. You will never rest easy, once you’re a parent. Every fever, illness or broken bone, you’d do anything to take their place. If they’re not home on time, you will be worried, then frantic. Every hurt they experience, you experience with them, but magnified. They own your heart, and they don’t care if they break it.

They didn’t ask to be born, you know. So fuck you. Did you make sacrifices for them? Too bad, that was your job.

I wish I’d had more compassion for my mom, even though she was so unfit for motherhood. I wouldn’t budge in my resentment until she got cancer. I could list the ways she failed me but never put myself in her shoes.

I used to urge my childless friends to have babies, if they asked my opinion. I told them that motherhood was so transcendent, so sublime, that life would be eternal high school without the experience. They would never know the scope and magnitude of pure selfless love. That part is true, I believe, but I regret my sales pitch now. I didn’t factor in how much they fuck you up.

Most of you parents would do it again with no hesitation, right? I would too, because those happy years were the best! But the downside, oh my god, it is terrible. I once considered setting myself on fire – it’s the method most available to women in India, and I thought the physical agony might cancel out the emotional distress. I got over it, so don’t freak out, alright? I’m just trying to illustrate the downness of the downside.

You expect your kids to love you back. You have all kinds of expectations.

Philip Larkin, I’ve always respected your English miserabilism. You were no match for Beckett, but who is? Anyway, not being a poet I can only offer this haiku I just made up.

You poor angry boy
If you don’t feel I’m your mom
You won’t get the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9 Responses to This Be Some News For Philip Larkin

  1. Madam Restora says:

    Someone, can’t remember who but they had traction, once said that past the age of 35 you can no longer blame your woes on your parents or upbringing. My parents both have dementia now, to differing degrees. Now I am their parent. You forgot about that part. It makes you love them all over again. It’s a tres complicated relationship, that’s for sure.

  2. Dj says:

    I experienced tons of emotional stress from my parents who had their own demons, monsters, sadness, regrets etc. I wanted to die when I was 12. I hated them both in my teens but had to keep it together because my mother often went off the rails with pills. Could t wait to go to college to get away from them. Felt mentally safer in 1980s NYC than at home. But, toward the end, I could cuss them out for their bad behavior and they listened. I had more fun with them than half the people I knew. I cried an entire year after my emotionally battered mother died. I miss both of them everyday….

  3. Andra says:

    Oh Sister, that’s just too depressing for words.
    Happily, I’ve been spared Philip Larkin and his horrible story.
    You have to make your own happiness, in spite of everything.
    Shit happens – plenty of shit has happened in my life but I still wake up every morning delighted to be alive and ready to live another day.
    Love, or maybe just like, is the answer.
    And remember, every day above ground is a good day. It’s up to you!
    Love and kisses

  4. DR says:

    I read this at least a dozen times. First time nearly took my breath from me. So someone else knows what I feel…and articulated it like I never could. I’ve printed it out and will frame it. The executor of my will has been instructed to get rid of it when I’m gone….I don’t want my estranged son to see it when I’m gone….assuming the drugs he loves so much won’t kill him first. No, he won’t get the house, or the assets….but his sons will. I payed a fortune to cure him….a waste. I made a lot of mistakes, but never intentionally hurt my child. He hates me….I love him, but have detached from him. Sister, you hit it head on..thank you.

  5. mary says:

    Wow, DJ such an interesting response. Gives me hope…..Sorry for your pain Sis, I hate how being human means to be so utterly flawed, sometimes it seems like some bad cosmic joke!

  6. Mary Liz says:

    Like Philip Larkin, I didn’t have kids myself, having witnessed what my parents went through with two seriously screwed-up sons (one schizophrenic, one an addict, both now dead…along with my parents). I spent time over the weekend with friends my age (late 50s) who are dealing with their own emotionally disturbed, suicidal, possibly opiate-using young adult daughter. I found myself with a sympathetic headache and realized that I was suffering for them but also getting insight into my parents, from their point of view via my friends. Before, I’d just seen it as a sibling/daughter. Best wishes to you, Sister Wolf.

  7. Romeo says:

    Haiku kung-fu!

    (I know that shit is from two different cultures, fuck off! It rhymes in English!)

  8. Sister Wolf says:

    Madame Restora – I didn’t forget about aging parents with dementia. Your parents are lucky you’re willing to care for them. Many more elderly people are shoved into facilities where strangers tend to their needs until they die.

    Dj – I’m glad you were able to repair your relationship with your parents! I wish the same for everyone. And I hope we don’t all have to wait until it’s near the end.

    Andra – You really are blesses with resilience and a joyful disposition! But you have your son and grandchildren in your life, right?

    DR – I’m so very sorry to hear this! If drugs are the problem, I hope you’ve considered your son’s painful predicament. Addiction is terrible. I can’t even stop eating cookies, let alone a substance my body is screaming for. I hope you are able to spend time with your grandchildren. Sending you best wishes for strength and peace of mind. xoxoxo

    Mary Liz – I’m so sorry for all of your losses but happy your compassion remains intact. Best wishes to you too! xo

    mary – Thank you xoxo

    Romeo – You are one lucky motherfucker. xo

  9. Suspended says:

    “I once considered setting myself on fire”

    Razors pain you,
    Rivers are damp,
    Acids stain you,
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren’t lawful,
    Nooses give,
    Gas smells awful.
    You might as well live.

    Wonderfully interesting and well written. If I was a Christmas elf, I’d gift you a job at the New Yorker. Well, right after I gave you a big hug.

    xxx

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