Monday, July 20, 2009

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.

Philip Larkin

This poem has always appealed to me. It so starkly and truthfully states the problem of generational family dysfunction. Trouble is, it offers no hope for families in trouble or for humanity itself. The best we can do is quickly leave home and not reproduce. The poem I posted last night (a bit half baked, but I like the metaphor) is in some way a response to Larkin's hopelessness. What do you think?


  1. Yes, I've always liked this too - if you can 'like' something so grim. And I thought your own poem was one of your best ever - it's really powerful. There's that biblical issue about the sins of the fathers - the natural tendency is that they certainly are visited on the children - but the gospel offers hope that they won't. I know so many people who desperately want to break the cycle of abuse and dysfunction that they inherited... this is hard, hard work and one of those heroic tasks that churches need to honour and support.

  2. thanks Jo.

    I think we need to find the language to express the fact that life is not played on a level field. The things that some people find relatively straightforward (like being happy, healthy, godly or sane) others will find a daily battle.

    Not sure how, though.

  3. I think it's closer to level than that suggests - assessing it purely from God's point of view. Happiness, health, and sanity can all coexist with messy arrogance, indifference, stubborness, selfishness, a sense of entitlement and all the other messy things that are byproducts of a loving upbringing.

    Even the most outwardly capable families (and parents) can leave people with less than obvious problems.

    I think it's a grass is greener thing. All families have a degree of baggage because all families involve sinful parents, who have sinful parents.

  4. Perhaps we're talking about different things. I know that people from stable, fantastic families can be dreadful sinners - with problems like pride, arrogance etc. I guess what I'm talking more about is basic functionality. For people with screwy backgrounds, getting out of bed in the morning can be a difficult thing.

    [By 'godly', I meant external obvious godliness. Not doing drugs, not getting pregnant at age 13, keeping out of jail, staying married etc.]

    Still disagree?

  5. I don't know if I agree or not. I don't know that comparing obvious external issues with messed up internal ones is all the helpful for anybody.

    I think it's analogous to the way we see the third world (particularly the church in the third world) as being impoverished physically while they see us as being impoverished spiritually by affluenza.

    Yes, family background and demographics will outwork itself in the lives of children - and that's unfortunate.

    I just think that's a general rule not something limited to extraordinary cases.

    I'm not trying to present with some sort of martyr complex - I just think this describes something more widely applicable than the obvious.

    And the playing field is just as level as any playing field that's dependent in some way on genetics - like sport, or academics... A level playing field is Utopian. I don't think anyone understands the playing field as level so I'm not sure I see the language gap that you do.

    I may be missing the point here.

  6. I remember keith b. saying that people from stable families have 'a wind in their sails' that those who grew up without stability don't. I didn't get it at the time. I do now.

    Nathan, think about all the stuff that you do. You're working FT, preaching each month, running conferences and probably maintaining a reasonably healthy marriage and social life. You have life together. That is (largely) a gift from your upbringing. You need no applause for turning up to church on Sunday morning. It wasn't that hard for you.

    For some other people, particularly those from dysfunctional or abusive families, showing up to work 90% of the time and church 75% deserves an applause.

    I think the toll that the past has on people becomes more obvious as we get older.

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  8. I'm from relative stability and the poem resonates with me. I read it thinking about particular friends and feel very sad.

  9. There are some really good books out there that can help you see ways that your upbringing has shaped you and what you can do about it to (a) improve your life now and (b) not pass on all your baggage to the next generation. I'm thinking particularly of the "Boundaries" series of books by Cloud and Townsend and "Adult to Adult" by Hillerstrom.

    I don't have children myself and have chosen not to (due to physical baggage - not much I can change there) so for me it's not an issue of passing on my psychological baggage. However, reading the books mentioned above has helped me to see my "buttons", how they are intentionally (or unintentionally) pushed and to no longer react in old patterns developed in childhood.

    BTW, has this post well and truly got you banned by that filter site? :-)