In what we can all hope to be the fulfillment of life’s intended cycle, it is an odd turn of nature that the child becomes the parent and the parent becomes the child. Quite unexpectedly I have learned that this eventuality is no mere aphorism, rather a blunt truism to which one must actively adhere. The discovery is perhaps for me the more surprising because I have never before had the occasion to be a parent; and I cannot resist thinking that the opportunity is akin to the experience of anyone who becomes a father or mother late in life, often more by accident than design. Yet because of the very natural unfolding of the experience I find that, in spite of my prior lack of education in the matter, being a parent to my own mother for example is nonetheless a perfectly fluid transition though admittedly the initial recognition of the condition was mildly startling.
A further element of suspense in the evolution of this paradoxical relationship was that until recently I hardly knew my mother on any level much less that arising in the context of reversed roles of parent and child. At the age of thirteen years I had removed myself to a boarding school in Aurora, Ontario and my parents lived four thousand miles away in Stockholm, Sweden. Even after my parents returned to Ottawa, Canada I was continuing my estrangement by living in Toronto, Ontario for undergraduate studies and afterwards in Halifax, Nova Scotia for law school. I have never returned home and my later associations with my parents were strictly social and frequently as contrived, distant and stilted.
Awakening to the care of my parents initially involved nothing more special than advising them to take the same estate planning precautions which I would have encouraged my legal clients to do, routine matters such as Wills and Powers of Attorney and the more esoteric precaution of a Family Trust. It wasn’t however until after the death of my father (who continued almost until his death to be cared for by my mother) that my participation in the care of my mother accelerated. An examination of my father’s financial affairs during the administration of his estate disclosed certain inadequacies which, while having been excused by my mother as “what your father wanted”, were not otherwise tenable. Modification of these arrangements was my introduction to the inertia which so characterized everything I later attempted to do for my mother. Her stock response to almost any suggestion – whether it be an investment decision or something as trivial as replacing a damaged lamp shade – was to put it off until some later date, whether after an upcoming holiday or some other arbitrary event. The pragmatism of the plan mattered not, her entire goal appeared to maintain the status quo undisturbed.
Given my mother’s appearance of deliberation and conviction, it required months of repeated similar intersections before I realized that her mind in these matters was not governed by logic, purpose or rationality but merely by intransigence. I have subsequently come to understand that her inability to embrace change of any degree is a reflection of the inordinate struggle which she must undergo to comprehend it. This of course made my resolution to lead by example and instruction – as one must do with a child – considerably more palatable for me and I no longer felt the pang of regret which at first attended my frustration and misgiving upon seemingly foisting my recommendations upon my mother.
The fruitful outcome of these frequently highly strained encounters between me and my mother was twofold: first, I at last took the uninhibited liberty of telling her exactly what I thought of her (a behaviour on my part which was most certainly not a model of decorum); and, second, I unwittingly acquired an insight into her personality which I can tell you was a far stretch from the paradigm of motherhood which I had mistakenly ascribed to her previously. In the result, the two of us got to know one another through the sometimes painful exercise of raw sentiment unadulterated by camouflage of any description. In the early stages of our acquaintance there was considerable anxiety mingled with our congresses; and it was not unusual for me to find myself muttering to myself as I sped away from her house in my car. Eventually however the acrimony dissipated as I acknowledged the cause and saw the need to act as guardian.