Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Being a Shadow of the Past

The film THE TENDER BAR represents the autobiography of successful writer J.R. Moehringer, a guy whose upbringing didn’t seem promising. His father, largely absent from his life except as a voice on various radio stations, looms as a gigantic presence because of his absence. Without adequate means to live independently, nine-year-old J.R. and his mother must reluctantly move back in with her parents. J.R. doesn’t want to tell anyone he’s named for his father because he can see how miserable his father has made the family he abandoned. The boy doesn’t want to admit his name Junior connects them forever, and he sometimes pretends he was named for Jackie Robinson, instead. The school psychologist tells J.R. that he lacks identity.

J.R. does well in school because of his intelligence and because he’s supported by his family—his mother, uncle, and grandfather, all of whom take his education very seriously as a route to a better ending than they have. At university, he becomes obsessed with a girl who’s willing to enjoy sex with him, but dumps him periodically over the years because he’s too low class to match her wealthy social position. Her rejection overshadows the goals he achieves to impress her. She underscores the loser identity with which he feels comfortable. Gradually, he seems to slip into the mold his father provided.

J.R.’s dilemma isn’t an uncommon one. How often do we repeat a loop of someone or something that happened in our past or the past of the family? Feeling unworthy is often passed down like an incurable genetic disease—an emotional pandemic. But it isn’t incurable. It’s a choice—if we perceive that it is. J.R. eventually realizes how different he wants to be from the man whose biology helped create him. Even a university degree and notable jobs couldn’t automatically free him. Feeling less-than isn’t a coat that’s easily shed. Most people who wear it are seduced by its comfort, it’s familiarity. We automatically downgrade without thinking about it—choosing poor friends, repeating terrible dependencies, accepting dead-end job situations, being less-than intellectually. How many survivors of domestic violence may leave one abuser only to embrace another? Not challenging ourselves feels safter than risking failure by daring to take a fresh path. When we hear someone say, “Just like his father” or “just like her mother,” we can sigh and feel excused. Of course we’re alike. We knew we would be.

The problem is that feeling unworthy is an unhappy condition—unfulfilling and deadening. Wearing a coat that shouldn’t fit chafes. Deep down, you suspect you aren’t really a carbon copy of anyone. You’re uniquely you. DNA isn’t iron-clad. Epigenetics reminds us that we can make changes if we’re willing to…make changes. But stepping out of the shadow isn’t easy. If the role model you’re emulating happens to be as dramatically odious as J.R.’s father, the contrast creates a strong motivating factor. But what if we fiercely love those who have been our role models in spite of their shortcomings? By selecting contrasting options, we aren’t condemning them; we’re freeing ourselves. We’re looking to star in a different story—not necessarily better in all ways, but different. All our own. If we’re very fortunate, our significant others will support us. Or we’ll find significant others who will. We aren’t AI.

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