Divine Calm: Choice

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11.27.2005

Choice

After finishing The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls this weekend, I have several competing thoughts weighing me down. First, here is what Amazon says about the novel:

Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls' removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be categorized as abusive (and unquestioningly neglectful). But on the contrary, Walls respects her parents' knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them--despite their overwhelming self-absorption--resonates from cover to cover.


As you probably can tell from the synopsis, The Glass Castle is a very intriguing novel. However, I had difficulty viewing the novel from an objective level due to my father's current state of homelessness. Like Walls' father, my own father has always hated authority but battles mental illness instead of alcoholism.

Like Walls', I refuse to define myself as a victim of a father who frequently rants religious tirades and would rather live on the streets than get a job beneath his qualifications. Unlike Walls' unconditional love for her father, I cannot fully accept my father's choice to bail out on his responsibilities as a father. More accurately, my father bailed out on his life. Yes, he is mentally ill (most likely bipolar), but he chose to ignore opportunities that would have helped him. Please don't view me as callous toward mental illness, because I do believe some mental illnesses' symptoms prevent an afflicted person from sticking to treatment. However, if you knew my father, you would see that my father's innate personality is stubborn and resentful toward the establishment.

Someone once reminded me that although my father's homelessness may not appeal to me, it is a life regardless. My father may have to carry all of his belongings in a garbage bag, but he receives a meal everyday at the local church and frequently reads books at the local library. (Yes, I have checked up on him.) I may be appalled at his standard of living, but it is his choice to make. Sometimes I wish he had taken a different path and chose me. Nevertheless, I choose to not take his decisions personally and forgive him. I can assure you that my father's choices haunt him more than they haunt me.

Another theme that resonated with me as I was reading The Glass Castle was how education and the love of reading can open doors for the disadvantaged. I, too, shared Walls' love of escapism through books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. While Walls' father loved discussing physics and astronomy with his daughter, my father would watch documentaries with me and teach me to question the world around me. Additionally, I had a mother who valued education and encouraged me to do well in school, but unlike Walls' mother, my mom sacrificed her own wants for her children's needs.

I wonder if Walls would have escaped poverty if she hadn't been as well-educated? I know I am more successful because of it. Perhaps Walls and I are both accomplished due to having more difficult childhoods. On second thought, I think we have chosen our lives rather than allowing our past to dictate our future.

Categories: Interesting, Once Upon a Time