Thursday, April 28, 2016

Anderson Cooper on "A fatherless girl..."

I usually think of CNN's Anderson Cooper as a rather bland gay man, but tonight during his appearance on Megyn Kelly's show on Fox, I listened a little:

"A fatherless girl thinks all things are possible and nothing is safe." At first, I thought this was a wildly original bon mot on Cooper's part, but it turned out (after an Internet search) that he got it via his mother Gloria Vanderbilt, who got it from the 1986 novel by Mary Gordon, "The Company of Women." Even after searching reviews of this book, which is apparently about a Catholic girl initially under the influence of a Catholic priest going on to have affairs with radicals in the '70s, etc., I still couldn't figure out the meaning of the quote in relation to the book's theme. The quote actually seems pretty glib upon reflection. In relation to the book, was this quote considered an excuse to go off and explore herself and desires?

I don't really see how being "fatherless" has anything to do with any woman's self-exploration. I do consider myself "fatherless" since my parents divorced when I was 12, and the years prior to that were filled with ugliness and emotional (sometimes physical) violence that I, even as a small girl, recognized as such.

I hated my father as a kid for his ongoing emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse. Unlike the conventional wisdom that a child was supposed to be disturbed by divorce, I on the other hand was extremely happy when I found out that my parents were divorcing (after my father threatened to shoot my mother -- it took THAT). Maybe THAT is what "a fatherless girl thinks all things are possible" means. Once my abusive father was out of the house, I could breathe a little easier, that's for sure. I no longer had to deal with his mental and emotional problems and sadism that constantly pervaded the entire house. Well, I take that back: For years after the divorce, he continued to make his presence felt. Calling the house threatening suicide. Driving out to the house and either passing out in the driveway or skulking around the back of the house, peering in windows, tapping at the back door at midnight, when I was the only one up, watching late-night TV. At the time, it was weird and creepy. I was 12 and 13 and 14, and I didn't have a name for what was going on, other than my feelings: "weird and creepy." Today, at 50, I'm amazed and horrified at the constant barrage of mentally ill behavior that I had to endure.

All of that said: I disagree with the glib "A fatherless girl thinks all things are possible and nothing is safe." Other than "Wow, thank god my abusive father is gone -- I can finally breathe a little!" and "Nothing is safe because my father keeps calling and showing up at the house." Which I don't think is what the author originally had in mind.

Oh yeah... I couple of other items from the Cooper interview: "I wanted to be around places where the language of loss is spoken." That's true for me. At 50, I can see clearly that some of my earlier attractions to people have usually been partially based on relating to that person's own sense of loss, their "outsider"-ness. Not so for Ginny, my high-school love, or Bill, the 50-something exec that I worked for when I was 28 --- those two I just had fun with. But when it comes to Mollie (ex-con dominatrix who was in jail when her mother died) or Murrah (gay father who told her mother after 20 years of marriage that he'd always been pretending she was a man while they were having sex) or Julie (online male tranny who'd claimed to have had abortions) or Sandra (abused as kid, parents dead at 12 and 17)... Wow. I thought they were all tragic, so compelling. Their situations so extreme and interesting to me, probably because of the weirdness that I myself had experienced as a child.

But here's the thing: "Extreme" does not equal "Meaningful" or "Profound." Horrible situations experienced do not mean that the person who experienced them learned anything or became a "better" or more intuitive person because of them. I think it's a complete myth that hard psychological times automatically make you better. In fact, most likely, being exposed to extreme adult psychological disturbances as a child make you more paranoid and neurotic! This can come in handy professionally if you're, say, an editor, as I am! But, kidding aside, it's a killer when it comes to relationships with others, where looseness, calmness, and trust is essential. I never relax with anyone. I'm always completely on alert for when they're going to "go bad" and when I can call them on that and hit them back for that.

As I age, though, I'm beginning to understand that the definition of "going bad" is not the same for all people. For instance, many, in their "dark" moments, are just "squirrelly"--- not "bad." Sandra's not talking to me at a restaurant, or not feeling up to driving me to work, for instance. Annoying as hell, but... not the same as making me take down all of my Bay City Rollers posters because I, as a 12-year-old, wouldn't sunbathe topless in the back yard.

There are variations of "sick." I cannot keep equating every single person's actions with my father's ugliness. I cannot keep thinking that "nothing is possible and nothing is safe."


Katie said...

Maybe it means that she wouldn't put it past anyone to disappoint her. "A fatherless girl thinks all things are possible and nothing is safe." I think it means that once that original and most essential relationship is damaged, its hard to trust anyone fully, that even someone who seems on the up and up might one day turn on you. Me for example, my father was absent and infamous- with lots of horrific stories told in his absence. I am in a fully committed relationship and my husband has proven over the past 18 years he has my best interest in mind and that my heart is safe with him. And yet, all things are possible and nothing is safe so if ever...well, it wouldn't surprise me to be betrayed. I too never relax with anyone (minus a very select few) and love what you wrote about how people going bad means different things depending on the person. And also how you said you can't measure everyone against your father's ugliness. -From an internet stranger.

Beth Austin said...

Thanks, Katie, for your thoughtful comment. I'd forgotten what I'd written and reading back over it made me want to work harder this year to be a more thoughtful writer on my blog. In the past couple of years, I've become more careless here, sometimes just tossing stuff out without thinking it through. I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my post and sharing your own thoughts on the meaning of both trust and disappointment. Happy New Year!