Monday, March 24, 2008
How come you and mom don’t sleep in the same bed anymore?
Two hours and three minutes into David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’, the son of Jake Gyllenhal’s character, Robert Graysmith, asks him that very same question.
The story of an obsessed man letting his relationships with his partner and family slide is a familiar one in cinema.
Broken relationships became more prominent in film as they did in life, with Kramer vs. Kramer perhaps being the most prominent in the 70s as the event of divorce was on the rise.
The subject has always been one of the cornerstones for the conservative argument that society's morals and values are in decline, whereas in reality the means of obtaining divorce have become easier. The likelihood is that the instances of divorce as a proportion of marriages has risen over time chiefly because the law has changed and become more lenient, particularly towards women in terms of assets and custody of any children. Alongside this, the social stigma on unmarried couples has lessened over the decades meaning that it is hard to gain statistics on those who live together as husband and wife and whether they later split up.
Whether divorced parents are worse for a child than parents who remain together unhappily is much harder to measure than raw divorce statistics, and arguably it’s one of the key issues related to the argument for moral decline. Various statistics are flung about related to the proportion of children with lone parents getting involved with crime, but these figures are often taken out of context without looking at the social background involved – the proportion of middle class children with lone parents turning to crime could well paint a different picture.
My parents never married, so yes I’m a bastard, but they still split up. As is usual in these situations it wasn’t a solution that was reached quickly and rationally, instead being preceded by years of arguments that led to a number of evenings when I would sit near the door of my bedroom, wondering what was going to happen.
I’ve never been a very sociable kind of person, even within my own family, so most of what I know happened comes from my own experience – my dad was becoming more and more of a drunk, obviously making my mum unhappy up until the point where she threw him out. He lived in his car for a while, definitely months and possibly over a year, but eventually he got it together and bought a flat a few minutes away from us. Shortly afterwards I went to live with him, leaving my younger brothers and sister back at the old flat with mum as it was too small for us all. I lived with my dad there from thirteen to nineteen, going back to my mums virtually every evening to have dinner with her and the kids. My youngest brother and sister would often come over to stay on weekends, but dad was still drinking and only drank more as time went on, eventually kicking me out of the flat a couple of months before I turned nineteen. Thankfully I had got into university by that point, though, so after a few months sleeping on the front-room floor of my old home I went and lived in halls.
It was hardly the worst of experiences as I was never beaten or abused, but with separated parents living so close and yet rarely communicating I became the go-between as I would literally go between the two homes, having to occasionally absorb the bile that either parent held for the other.
Ever since then the most important thing to me has been security, a home with a sense of permanence, and perhaps this has led to my low ambition as all I’ve really wanted is somewhere I’m happy to return to every day.
Apart from the line in Zodiac the reason this has all come back to me is the flat I am in now. Besides the insecurity and anxiety I get from living somewhere impermanent, a place I know that I will soon move from for the reasons I’ve mentioned before, there are the neighbours.
Among the list of inconveniences that come free of charge with this flat – the floor so uneven that I prop the fridge with a piece of wood to stop the freezer unit frosting up in one corner; the leaky cistern; the badly wired cooker – are the noisy neighbours. With two young kids the family upstairs really can’t help being noisy, especially in a building as rickety as this. Judging from my own floorboards I’m sure that I would drive people downstairs mad, if it weren’t an empty shop. However, it’s not really the kids that get to me as they find new and exciting games that seem to involve dropping weights many times their own size from a considerable height and such. It’s the parents.
On a fairly regular basis they have a screaming match with each other, loud enough to make out every single word they say meaning that their kids can too. Except that unlike their kids, I’m not fluent in French (the family is Algerian). It makes me wonder what’s best for them – do they sit in their room in the dark at night, frightened as their parents scream, or have they become accustomed to it now, developing coping mechanisms like the bright-eyed little girls on a recent channel 4 documentary about the state of Iraq, who described how men came in to their home and shot their father in his stomach.
Would they be happier if their dad wasn’t around? It has to be said that each situation is different - I have good memories of my dad when I was little, of going for a walk to the shops at night and going on holiday around England and Wales, but the drink took that all away, or rather his weakness for it and unwillingness to stop. As it’s French for all I know they could be arguing about who loves each other most.
There aren’t any answers here and I don’t have any special insight, but two of my friends have got married and had kids in the last couple of years, so I not only hope that they become part of the statistics of those that don’t get divorced, but also that they never want to.
Love and luck to both those new families.
Thankfully season 12 of South Park has started well with ‘Tonsil Trouble’, infecting Cartman with HIV, but it has really taken off with episode 2, ‘Britney’s New Look’, mixing commentary on the cult of celebrity and the menace of paparrazi with Omen and Invasion of the Body Snatchers references. This season has a lack of concurrent sub-plots so far, but in episode 2 there is repeat mention of Butters dressed as a squirrel.