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Guilt and Self-pity

I released the handbrake of the brand new Hudson. The sensation of holding the steering wheel, like dad, as the vehicle rolled backward, out of the driveway into the street, delighted me so much I laughed.

Suddenly he was standing next to me. My gaze lifted to the wide brown leather belt, tightly wrapped around his protruding belly. I’d seen him loosen it and thrash my older brother. Now my turn had come, I had been naughty and deserved the belt. He folded it double, a calm determined look came into his eyes. Here it comes, I thought and started blubbering.

Tears of fear blinded me, and suddenly, instead of pain. I felt his arms hugging me, as he repeated over and over again: “mein einikle” (my special one) “it’s alright, all is forgiven”.

But that was not the end of the matter. After he walked out of the room, leaving me alone, I burst into tears. I had been bad, and hurt a man who was kind to me. The pain of the belt would have been nothing, compared to the mental anguish, caused by the feeling of guilt at not being punished.

Everyone was punished for not behaving or not doing homework or not learning dictation. Being punished was an accepted fact of life for a schoolboy who respected himself. I wanted to be punished like everyone else.

Making me feel guilty was not accidental. He made this clear in one of his dinnertime speeches, in the face of all the family.

It came as soon as the main course had been consumed. Everyone was expected to be seated at the table, at 6 PM. In the kitchen, black maids dished up the meal, previously prepared by my mother. John, the old black man served us at the table. Everyone ate silently, tension filled the air. They all knew what was coming.

The speech of how he deserved gratitude, only took place when I had done something wrong, messed with his car, been rude to my mother, or a teacher, fought with my brothers, came home late from playing with my friends. It was not directed at my brothers. When they did something wrong it was punishment and the end of the story.

My misbehavior was a sign of ingratitude, he said and gave them pain. They had sacrificed everything for me and “this is how I had repaid them”.

Not punishing me when I deserved it, and then grumbling, that they didn’t deserve the pain I’d caused them, made me feel guilty, even when I hadn’t done anything.

Sadly I thought to myself: “why couldn’t he punish me, like everyone else, and get it over with, that would have removed the guilt”. But no, they wanted me to bear the guilt. It served them as payment for their own self-pity. I had no earthly idea what suffering they had in mind. I only know that I was chosen to pay for it.

“Perhaps they considered they’d done me a favor, in bringing me into the world?” I certainly was happy that someone had performed that task, and I’m grateful. But the fact remains: l didn’t ask them for this favor. They did it of their own free will.

Parents seeking payment from their children, for suffering, real or imagined, are just beggars, trying to get something they don’t deserve.

Not only did they caused me to feel guilty, but being decent kind people, they also pitied me for the suffering it caused me. I didn’t want their guilt or their pity and I’ve been going through life shaking that stupid burden off my shoulders.

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