This is simply a discussion. I'm not trying to convert you to anything but simply discuss something I probably understood, but that took on more meaning to me as a result of this experience. A line in the TV series Madam Secretary hit me like a bolt of lightning.
Gale and I had been binge-watching Madam Secretary on Netflix for a couple of weeks. We were in season five; there are six seasons and each season seems to have about 23 episodes; that's a shitload of episodes, 138 by my count.
The good news is that it is one of the best series we've seen. Any TV series that isn't simply a bunch of idiots falling in a vat of chocolate or trying to eat bugs without puking presents a challenge to keep the stories varied and interesting. A few that we think have hit the mark are The Wire, Shameless, Homicide On The Streets, West Wing, and now, Madam Secretary. I'm sure there are others, but my goal here is not to review TV series.
In the episode we were watching, the brother of Elizabeth, the main character, is Will. Will is an adventurer, and a bit of a rounder. His marriage is on the rocks because he's always off doing some stupid damn thing and his wife, who professes to still love him, is fed up with raising their child alone.
Will is living with his sister, Elizabeth and her husband, Henry, between adventures while trying to sort out his life. Elizabeth and Will's parents were killed in a car accident when Will was 13 and Elizabeth was 15. As Will is explaining why he has had so much trouble managing and maintaining relationships, he said something like, "I thought a relationship was simply about going out to dinner, working and paying the bills, and producing children. Hey, what the hell, I lost my role models when I was 13."
That line stopped me in my tracks and my brain went into blender mode and started processing that in terms of my life, and my relationships over time and especially my now 46-year marriage, and it was like some sort of release, or explosion, or, hell, I don't know what it was. All I know is that I had no parental role models as a child and Gale had some pretty lousy role models with her cold and distant parents.
I've talked about growing up in the Boys Home in Omaha in any number of posts and pieces, and that it was an okay childhood given that it was a little like growing up in a boarding school or military school. I've talked from time to time about having all the proper education, training, and moral guidance a kid could want. And, I've said what was missing in my upbringing was love. There was no love; no hugging at the Home. True, the adults who took on the job of trying to herd upwards of eighty boys must have been doing it for a good reason, or reasons, and maybe love was one of them. But that was not demonstrated love or anything you could model later in life. It was just a lot of well meaning adults trying to take care of a bunch of boys who were basically homeless. But, that line in Madam Secretary added another dimension to what I have said or tried to say about my childhood.
At other times, I've made reference to how a baby duck that has lost his mother will glom onto a dog or cat, bond with it and follow it around and adopting the behavior of its adopted parent. You see this in nature all the time. We humans are no different; children need a role model, or maybe several. Even a child from a broken marriage can have one parent there as a role model. If that parent starts dating again, even if they don't remarry, the children watch the interaction between the parent and a partner, or several partners over the years. They watch and they learn how to either enter into and nurse a relationship, or how to turn it into a disaster, but one way or another they are learning the people skills that will someday hopefully let them fulfill their part in the social contract of marriage.
At the next break we took during the series, I said to Gale, something like, "I'm amazed that we have made our relationship work as well as it has given that neither of us had decent or even any role models to draw on, to use as examples in a relationship. In my case they didn't exist and in her case they behaved more like roommates than husband and wife.
I guess I've always known the importance of children having role models, but it never quite hit home with me how my young life was almost devoid of those influences the way that line in the series spoke to me. I guess the most important role models for kids would be parents if they are lucky enough to have at least one in their lives.
We are born with instincts. Babies who have never fallen, are fearful of falling; that's instinct. They jump at a sudden loud noise, and wrinkle their noses at strange smells. We're born with those instincts, but just about everything else in life is learned through teachers, mentors, and role models.
It can also be other family members, an Aunt or Uncle, siblings, teachers and coaches, there are any number of people, usually adults, who can play a role in a child's life and give the child the life lessons they will need in order to coexist with other humans. Children spend a great deal of time in that first ten or fifteen years watching and listening to the adults around them in order to gain the people skills that will shape them later in life. We don't always accept what the role models offer us, but at least we have a choice after witnessing behavior.
There is nothing Gale or I can do about our childhoods, and we have both grown and developed many of the social skills needed in a relationship as adults through reading, study, and communication with others. Sometimes it is a friend at a bar describing something in one of their relationships that give you information. It can be a movie, although you have to be a little careful about accepting everything as fact that pops up on a screen.
I truly believe that there are synopses in the brain that are formed and connected when you are a child that help you to develop as a loving, caring, and compassionate adult. It's no guarantee - for all I know, Ted Bundy came from a loving family - but in general, that is how the young in any species develops into an adult. They watch and listen and learn from their parents and other adults.
Discussing life, politics, and philosophy in the language of the bar.