It is only now in the light of the cratered backdrop of my personal life that I have become open to the idea that I grew up underneath tyrants.
We all do, that is, grow up subject to tyrants. Our parents are our dictators for significant parts of our life. We may foment protest and agony against them, but they hold the power, ultimately. And it is absolute.
When we are quite young, we cannot feed, bathe, or clothe ourselves. Through most of adolescence, we rely on them for certain wisdom to which we do not yet have access, and for spending money. We rely upon them for their ability to take us to the doctor, to sign our permission slips, to sign our admission forms to college depending on the age we are, and we rely on them, mostly, to be fair.
Far too often, they are not fair. And it’s not their fault; their parents weren’t fair either. This world is not fair. Fair is a concept reserved for the unimaginative, the philosopher, and the neo-liberalist economist. That is to say: fair is not real.
I love my parents as best one can love their captors, as best one can love their benevolent dictators. These days, I cringe when they invoke a royal “we” as if we are of one mind on so many things to which I am certainly not in agreement, but they spent so many years not needing to consider my disagreement that it seems almost cruel for me to break that delicate, dedicated worldview.
I do not think they will like it. In fact, I already have proof that not only will they dis-like it, but they are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that they need never truly grapple, let alone actively observe or encounter, the disparate paths of our realities.
That is their truth: they must live it. This is mine: I must live it.
While I am much too old to cry about it, I am also much too young to simply accede. There are parts of me that want to tear their world apart with the rage of a toddler coupled with the strength of an old-school Eastern European strongman. I want to batter them with my truth.
But this is not the civil way forward, this is not the path of empathy, despite how momentarily satisfying it would feel to be the most ill-controlled version of myself. We all believe ourselves to be fundamentally decent human beings; I might as well act as if that is true. Therefore, I do not kick down their doors, I do not go after their pillars, and I do not sneer or spit. I let them be and they let me be — it is quiet, and we ignore each other with the coolness of an arctic glacier that has not yet been subject to climate change and therefore is not in imminent danger of melting.
However, seeing that we do live in a time of climate change and those glaciers are melting, there is only a matter of time before there is a reckoning.
I both welcome and fear that reckoning. Navy SEALs will tell you: you cannot unring a bell. I took a rash and necessary act and that started the clock on this inevitable collision. It ticks and it tocks, forward, second by second, every day. I know the feel of a suspicious glance; I know a poorly rendered inquiry; we will try many ways to manipulate one another to do each others’ bidding before we face it head on.
A reckoning is coming and they, my parents, my former dictators, believe that they will win. They believe that I will “come back to my senses” and fold into myself to give them peace of mind, for all tyrants believe that all rights belong to them.
They have forgotten one thing, though: tyrants are outrageously good at raising their young in their image. Tyrants never beget serfs; tyrants beget tyrants. It will be a clash of equals.
We all, when it comes down to it, occupy desperate ground. Desperate ground is that place where you must battle for your very life. And that is how all tyrants, benevolent or not, come to an end, where those they would subjugate must make a choice to live or to die.
Who will prevail?