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Relationships between parents and children are often very complex and multi-layered. One cannot really describe them with one or two adjectives and be satisfied with the result. There are so many aspects and shades to these relationships; a person can name some of them, but others can only be felt on a subconscious level. That is why it is sometimes difficult to resolve parent-child issues or understand the behavior of family members. Oftentimes there’s a misunderstanding between a father and a son, between a mother and a daughter. Children sometimes think that their parents are wrong in prohibiting or demanding something. However, later on comes a realization that everything a parent does is based on love and desire to protect. Every parent-child relationship is unique, but the bitter truth is that the relationship between a child and a parent is almost impossible without a bittersweet cocktail of love, wistfulness, gratitude, and regret.
Literature supplies us with many examples of parent-child relationships. There are authors who describe those relationships in a way that every person can relate to their stories. In his small poem “Those Winter Sundays” Robert Hayden was able to depict the relationship of a father and a son that touches the heart of every reader. There is a reason why this poem moves a reader so deeply. Almost every person can associate with the poem, almost everyone can see himself or herself in that little boy who took for granted the work and the kindness of the father. The poem is full of bittersweet memories of a grown man who recalls his childhood with a newly gained perspective of an adult. Even the first line of the poem sets the mood and places the reader into the life of those people, as if giving a chance to be a silent witness of their everyday life. The author writes that “Sundays too my father got up early” (Hayden 17). This phrase implies that he got up early every day of the week and not just on Sundays. So, every single day the father woke up and tried to chase away the cold and the darkness by making fire and only then waking up his son. Even on Sunday, the day when people are supposed to rest, he was still forced to work because he knew that the child would be cold unless he got up.
While the whole poem is a description of the life of those people the last two lines is the cry out of a soul that realized (maybe too late) that he didn’t appreciate his father enough. This is a burst of feeling of a grown up man who now knows something he was ignorant of years and years ago. By reading the poem we can almost feel the risen voice of that man and the emotions that must overwhelm him at that point. Love and regret are combined masterfully in the poem.
Another vivid example of parent-child relationship and the underlying feelings is the story by E.B. White “Once More to the Lake”. This story is about a father and a son who come to the lake for a couple of days just to have a rest. The story is told from the father’s perspective and it is full of memories and nostalgia as he, the grown man already, recalls being a boy and coming to this very lake with his father. As he revisits the place together with his son it seems that he relives his old memories once again. Time after time the father feels that there were no all those years. Moreover, he often has a strange feeling of being two people at the same time – the father and the son. Here is one of the examples of such a strange feeling: “I looked at the boy, who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching. I felt dizzy and didn't know which rod I was at the end of” (E.B. White 25). I think it was important for this adult man to revisit the place of his childhood and relive all those sweet moments that he remembered but that probably began to become hazy and unclear. When coming back to the lake he saw and heard many familiar things that triggered his senses and memory and gave a chance to recollect their visits to the lake with his own father. Moreover, this trip gave him a chance to feel close to his father who was no longer with him.
The story “Once More to the Lake” is a mixture of happy and sad feelings. The boy is happy to be at the lake and the father is happy too, they’re having a great time together. At the same time something always reminds the main character that this is actually not the same trip, that all those years that make the lake and the people completely different actually existed. In this way he notices many small details that constantly remind him of the years past. The girls in the café have clean hair unlike earlier, the boats at the lake are now noisy and the silence of the gorgeous afternoons is often broken by their sounds. These are just couple of examples of what he finds different near the lake.
Finally, I would like to focus on a memoir by Gary Shteyngart called “Sixty-Nine Cents”. This short and seemingly not serious essay is about a man who finally understood that he was similar to his parents. Although this thought might seem like something obvious – it is not. How many times do we promise ourselves that we’ll be different from our parents, that we will not do the same mistakes, that our lives will surely be different and more successful? The truth is that probably every kid does that comparison at some point at life. This is a natural process that allows children to establish their own beliefs, personalities, and values. However, we cannot escape the fact that we are similar to our parents who brought us up and shaped us as human beings. So, when this realization hits us it is painful and uncomfortable to acknowledge that we’ve come right back to where we started from. Together with that many people realize that their denial might have hurt their parents.
Because of the reasons above a broad audience can associate with this memoir even if they’re not Russian immigrants. The story is a recollection of the times when the author was a teenage boy; and two Russian immigrant families had a trip to Florida. On their way back they stopped at McDonald’s but didn’t buy food there. They pulled out their own food and had lunch. The boy was very angry and disappointed because he wanted to eat a hamburger. The last paragraph of the memoir is very important because it contains both the denial of similarity with his parents by a teenager and a final realization that he is just like his parents by a man who recalls the story. “I was my parents’ son” – says the author in the very last sentence of his work (Shteyngart 49) as if it was a revelation to him. This sentence summarizes the whole story and leaves a reader wondering about the nature of parent-child relationship and the twist in the perspective of adults when they recall their childhoods.
Personally I had an experience where I did not agree with my parents at first but I came to understand them later. I wanted to go for a vacation but they made me stay and prepare for an important exam. I was furious and I thought that making me do this would never bring positive results because I just didn’t have the right attitude for studies. Time passed and I succeeded on my exam. That was when I realized that I caused too much of unnecessary pain to my parents when in fact they were trying to help me. I understood that without preparation I wouldn’t have passed that exam that was meant a lot for my future. I learned that to achieve something you have to work hard; and I know now that I can trust the decisions of my parents.
All these three stories, thought completely different, send a similar message to a reader. The relationship between parents and children is like a double-edged sword. There’re always mixed feelings between parents and children because at one point a child may not understand the actions or decisions of the parents but when the knowledge comes it is not always easy to except it.