Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

My Only Problem with My Parents? They Were Perfect

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

My Only Problem with My Parents? They Were Perfect

Article excerpt

This period between the yearly ritual of breakfast in bed for Mom and that new spring tie for Dad prompts some to pen nostalgic memoirs.

The results of my recent attempts were discouraging. My memoirs seemed as spiritless as a teetotaler's fruitcake. Then I remembered what the author of a well-received memoir said when asked about her next book: "I'm thinking of writing about my family, which is just crawling with dysfunction - they're like a gift for a writer."

Aha! I thought - that explains everything. Mom and Dad are the secret behind my lack of success as a memoir writer. Sure, the Walsh and McGinley clans, though a few generations removed from the old country, were as Irish as the McCourts of "Angela's Ashes."

But instead of being an unemployed, gregarious-when-drunk alcoholic and family deserter like Frank McCourt's dad, my father persisted in working double shifts to support his family of seven throughout the prosperous '50s and '60s. Dad was like John Wayne in "The Quiet Man," only shorter and quieter.

My mother was just as bad, memoir-wise. Here she was a homemaker and part-time secretary at a Catholic rectory during the tumultuous '60s and '70s. If running off with a guitar-playing priest didn't appeal to her, couldn't she at least have screamed at her messy kids? Or, disheartened by her insider's view of rectory life, couldn't she have joined an anticlerical sect?

No, with nary a thought of her youngest daughter's future frustration as a memoir-writer, my mother sang '40s popular standards as she did housework, threw Halloween parties for the neighborhood kids in mid-July, attended Mass daily, and deflected any criticism of the priests - whom she never called anything but "Father" - with the soft comment, "They're only human, too."

Okay, so my childhood is a kid's picture book at best. Throughout my teen years, when other memoir-writers' parents had the decency to spend their midlife amidst the rubble of detonated marriages and ditched careers, my parents remained boringly faithful to each other and their life choices.

Then, as my older siblings and I married and started families, Mom and Dad neglected opportunities to sow strife or to be controlling in-laws, being too busy indulging their grandchildren. …

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