It Just Hit Me: My Parents Weren’t Bad
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It Just Hit Me: My Parents Weren’t Bad


As a teenager, I suppose it’s pretty normal to think your parents are awful. My mom did have major temper problems, depression and mood swings, and she’d rage at me out of nowhere at times even when I was very young, which may have led to this innate belief that everyone is mad at me when there’s no evidence that this is so. My dad divorced my mom when I was eight and, whether I want to admit it or not, it did cause some abandonment issues—despite the fact that he went on and on about how it wasn’t my fault and he still wanted to see me. He married just a year later, and my stepmom became the center of his universe.

Well, sort of.

He didn’t disappear. He didn’t cop out of child support. He took my sister and me on the weekends. He took us to Disneyland, the park, the science museums, the library, the movies and to dinner. Of course, my stepmom tagged along and when you’re eight years old, you have no idea how intoxicating new romance can be, how all-consuming new relationships can be; I didn’t have the perspective to understand that the fact that he was more interested in this new woman had nothing to do with his affection for me.

And my dad taught me lots of important lessons. If he ever wanted me to attempt something new, like go on a roller coaster or try to bicycle or swim in the deep end, he would pretty much force me to do it.

This one time we were at a water park and he wanted me to go on this big scary (to my eyes) water slide called Congo. After we waited about 10 minutes in line and finally stood at the top of that monstrosity, I realized I couldn’t see where it led or how steep it sloped. This freaked me out. Before I expressed my concern, my dad gave me the inter tube and told me to get on and go down by myself.

I immediately panicked. Where did the slide go? Did it drop off into an abyss? Were there crocodiles at the bottom? What if I hit my head? Maybe I’d die!

“No,” I said, terrified. “I’m scared.”

“It’s not scary, you’ll have fun,” he responded. “Come on, let’s go.”

I started crying but he kept pressuring me. Then he picked me up and set me on that inter tube. I screamed and sobbed as he literally pushed me down.

Had it been 2015 and not 1987, someone may have called child services.

I was so terrified and so convinced I would die that it initially didn’t occur to me that I was having fun. But after about 20 seconds, the fear melted and I started grinning. Then I began laughing. The slide was super fun. Sure it had sharp twists and turns and a bumpy surface so I bounced around a lot, but it wasn’t scary. The tears faded, and the second I got off the ride, I jumped up and down enthusiastically in front of my dad screaming, “It was so much fun!”

“I told you so,” he said.

Then I got back in line to go on for a second time. And, like a good addict, I went back for a third time. And a fourth. And a fifth. In total, I slid down that terrifying slide six times.

Does my father deserve to be reported for child abuse? Well, his kid doesn’t think so.

As an adult, I’ve always been a risk-taker, unafraid to try new things or go new places alone, and I sometimes wonder if my dad didn’t have a hand in that. I learned early on that fears are not facts, and that if you push through the nerves, you’ll often find fun and pleasant experiences on the other side.

To this day, I can talk to my father for at least two hours on the phone. He shares my interest in world and domestic affairs, books and pretty much everything else. He gives me excellent romance advice and isn’t afraid to talk about anything personal.

And despite my mother’s mood swings, she still dumped me in all sorts of classes—ballet classes, theatre classes, tap and jazz classes, and painting classes. One time, when I was extra depressed in the 10th grade, she even sent me off to a therapist, and I think she had to pay out of pocket. She may have cared too much about my grades, but at least I got a math tutor—something I desperately needed. And she may have paid too much attention to my teeth—she had me taking fluoride tablets and got me orthodontia, which hurt like a bitch and made me look like an idiot with that big headgear. But it was no small expense, and it was very nice of my mother to set me off into the world with a big bright smile.

Though they helped me get through college, and an expensive one at that, my parents cut me off financially immediately after I graduated. I pretty much hated them for that. I had to temp, I had to photocopy lawyers’ reports, I had to answer huge switchboards. But I finally got a decent enough job and managed to get my own apartment—something that wouldn’t have happened if they’d continued to support me.

When I destroyed my life with alcohol, they didn’t bail me out of my financial destitution or let me stay with them. I hated them for that too. I had to stay in the shadiest of halfway houses and eat food from the food bank. And this helped me wise up and get sober.

I also hated them because they never paid for me to take a trip to Europe, even though they could have afforded it. So now, at 36, I’ve booked my first flight to London where I’ll see some friends and then visit Paris and Barcelona. Why? Because in sobriety I’ve learned it’s my job to save my money to get there—no one has to do it for me. And from this, I not only get an amazing store of self esteem but also the knowledge that anything’s possible if I work for it.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve met more and more people who come from not-so-great families—especially sober people who had alcoholic parents. Up until recently, I thought my parents were just so-so. But then I started comparing and contrasting and I realized I’ve just been a huge brat.

Today I feel exceptionally fortunate. My parents weren’t perfect. But who is? They did their best. The longer I’m sober, the more I’m able to get my head out of my ass and the more I’ve come to not only appreciate them but also put an effort into calling and visiting them, knowing that they won’t be around forever. I used to just sort of ignore them. Today I make the effort to make them a priority. And I know it means the world to them.

Especially now that my dad and stepmom divorced, which happened a year ago. I’ve actually helped him put together a profile on so he can maybe meet another woman. I must admit I was a big scared he’d wind up with someone much too young for him. But when a 20-something hit on him at the Trader Joe’s, his response was “young girls are nothing but drama.” See what I mean? This guy’s got it together.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.