The ‘Rents

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend, which means Father’s Day isn’t far behind. And while I’m grateful to my parents, who did a pretty good job of raising me and my sisters, I can’t help but reflect what a significant impact parents have on their kids, both positive and negative.

From the standpoint of an author, parents rank second only to a former love when it comes to shaping the personality and motivation of a character. For instance, I can yoke a heroine with an absent father—did growing up without him make her stronger, or has it become her Achilles’ heel? Does she long for reliable male companionship as a result, or does she blame an entire gender for the sins of one man?

I could saddle a hero with an overbearing mother who threatens to drive away his chance at love. Will he sacrifice the woman who gave him life? Find the strength to stand up to her? Or will he break her heart to fulfill the dreams of his own? Oh, the guilt! Oh, the drama!

What secrets does a protagonist hide from her parents, fearing she’ll lose their love and acceptance? How heavy lays the burden of their disappointed expectations upon the shoulders of a villain? Abusive or supportive, loving or stifling, even when entirely absent, parents lay the groundwork for a character’s destiny.

Ah, the ‘rents! So much literary fodder for tension! You can blame them for anything, make them responsible for strong personalities capable of driving a narrative. Whether a character’s childhood was harrowing or idyllic, it surely impacts the way he or she views the world as an adult.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

 

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.

 

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

—Phillip Larkin