How well do you really know someone?

7 Mar

We spend our lives listening to our parent’s potted histories, groan at having to hear them over and over – once, twice, three times – sometimes late at night, often with high emotion.

We internalise these stories without question; it’s only when we go to recount them back to an unconnected party that we start to see them for what they are. Glimpses only. Snapshots. A biographical history – selective, biased, incomplete.

We may know intimately our loved one’s character traits, their struggles, passions, desires. We may learn to predict their behaviour, know how to cosset them against harm, support them in their personal struggles, marvel at their hard-fought triumphs, but do we ever really consider the person they were before we met them? They are “our mum” or “our dad”. We give only a fleeting thought to the experiences that shaped them into who they are today, take foregranted who they might have been to someone else.

My dad had a few anecdotes he told time and again. Like the time he blew his falling out money from the navy on a suite of rooms at Manchester’s most expensive hotel, while his equals slummed it in student halls throughout fresher’s week. Or the first year he spent bording in a madam’s house, looked after like a son, fed cooked breakfast every morning as debauchery went on around him. Snapshots of a life lived to the full, a man with a cheeky glint in his eye.

The thing with anecdotes is that they’re just that. Improved over time, polished, made more funny, more enchanting, more impressive. If we start to ask questions, we soon begin to realise how much more there is to know, that what we know is merely a scratch on the surface of a life lived.

It was only when my father lost his sight and hearing, became isolated, more reflective, when we used to sit for hours talking because there was little else he could do, that I really got to know him. Started to fill in the gaps, build the flesh around the anecdotal bones, get to really know him as he was in life, from beginning to end.

My mum has her own stories, funny, poignant, some tragic, many filled with enormous strength and achievement. We are incredibly close, like sisters, and yet, I’m beginning to realise that for as much as I do know, there is still so much that I don’t. Have never thought to ask, question, or clarify. Or I have listened but never really heard.

I’m looking forward to finding out even more not just about a mother, but a sister, daughter, friend.

18 Responses to “How well do you really know someone?”

  1. jfb57 March 7, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    You are SO klucky to have realised this in time. I feel I didn’t know either of my parents at all. I have so many questions about them & me but will never have any answers. Enjoy your stories!

    • marketingtomilk March 9, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

      I know that I am lucky. Things have happened in my life to make me stop and think about things. Many don’t get the chance.

  2. Mom-on-a-Wire (Alethea) March 7, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    This is such a poignant post, and a very special one too.
    Enjoy your time together, and never stop questioning.

  3. rachel frowd March 7, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    I’m looking forward to finding out more too, together, darling. And to carry on having fun, the 3 musketeers together, for as long as is possible x

  4. kelloggsville March 7, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    I think I’ve scared of asking because I’m frightened of getting closer and then suffering greater loss. Is it easier to lose a parent than a friend? Difficult times xx

    • marketingtomilk March 9, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

      not easy to lose either. not knowing the answer to questions is worse.

  5. Lady-like Pervert March 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm #


    Last night when I was putting my 7yo to bed, we embraced for (another) hug and she clamped on and said “Momma – wouldn’t that be so funny if we were stuck like glue like this?” We laughed and made up funny scenerios that would pose a challenge if our torso were connected. Drinking a glass of water, watching a movie, mowing the lawn and even using the toilet! We ended up laughing and joking for 20 minutes, real laughing – like the kind I would do with an adult.

    When I finally left her bedroom, I shut the door with the biggest grin on my face and in my heart.

    I’d removed my Mommy hat for those 20 minutes and laughed with my daughter like we were the best of friends.

    I told myself that I want my daughters to know more of Mommy like that. I’m so glad that I exposed a new angle of myself.

    I’m so happy for you that you’re going to discover your Mum’s other angles.

  6. TheMadHouse March 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    It is one of my regrets. I dont know more about my mum, the woman she was, not the mother she became. Now I dont have her to ask. So so sad

  7. The Mummy Bean March 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Thank you for such a lovely post. I am straight on the phone to mum tonight.

  8. susie@newdaynewlesson March 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    That is so beautiful, that you are using this time to learn and to become even closer than you are.


  9. mumra March 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    Stories are so important, the way our parents met, the jobs they had, the places they lived.

    Your right though, do we actually listen?

    My parents tell great tales, next time i’ll listen properly. x

  10. Knackered Mother March 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    I still wish I’d asked my granny more, listened more, but you don’t when you think they will be there forever. Hugs x

  11. scribblingmum March 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    I think we’re all lucky that our kids will get a snapshot of who we are, through our blogs, it’s a great legacy when you think about it. My Nan wrote her memoirs, my Aunty typed them and got them bound before she ‘lost ‘er marbles’ and we all got given a copy for Christmas and it was an amazing read. And now my Mum has just done the same, spurned on by my blog. Make sure you write your Mum’s down so that your kids get to know about her too.

  12. Miss Cherry Red March 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    How very thought provoking.

    My dad used to frustrate me telling me the same story time and time again but I know that if he weren’t here to tell them I’d feel somehow empty.

    Hugs to you for finding some strength in finding out more.

    Maybe I’ll go home and prompt my Dad to regale me with one of his stories!!


  13. hartlandcopywriting March 8, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    What a lovely post. I always make sure that I ask Dad questions now..about his life, his family etc. It takes him a while to answer but he gets there in the end. I dont want to miss anything. When you know that there is only a certain amount of time left you see them as so much more than a parent…they are a son, daugher, uncle, friend…

    Get as much information as you can, write it down so that you can tell others, your family. My heart goes out to you so much as I know exactly how it feels. Each moment is special and is cherished now…perhaps it should always be like that?

    Lots of Love, Amy xxxxx

  14. mama-andmore March 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    what a honest, beautifully written post. I used to get frustrated by my dad telling his life story again and again, but I guess that in a way it is his way of affirming that he had a life before being a dad. My mother and I have always been like friends, and she somehow managed to manage our relationship so that she drip-fed me more and more about who she was before children, so that I knew what was appropriate at the right times, and appreciated her for the rounded person she was. I hope that you get to eke out all the stories you can from your parents. x

  15. Doodlemum March 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    As so many have said, you are lucky to be so self aware to make the most of precious time. My Mum and I didnt, that still hurts to this day. I cope by making myself be more honest and open to my children. Laugh, cry and enjoy each others company, it’s what some of us can now only wish we did. Be brave. x

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