I believe in the power of pigheadedness.
My mother called it willfulness, bullheadedness, obstinacy. For her, stubbornness was my worst quality. My not taking my parents’ advice led them to tell me, through clenched teeth and enraged tones, that I was “about as bright as a burnt out light bulb.”
Maybe they were right. I had my first child at fifteen, took summer and correspondence courses, worked thirty hours a week waitressing, and graduated with my classmates in 1981. My high school G.P.A. did not change my parents’ opinion of my intelligence, but through the power of pigheadedness, I graduated on time.
Eventually, my parents divorced, and my father married a very nice woman who told me that waitressing fulfilled a niche in society, a worthy accomplishment, because the world needs good waitresses, which is quite true. However, I wanted more for myself and my children than a single mother of four could make working in a small town restaurant, so I enrolled in college for the third time. The first time I had been too timid to show up, and the second time I believed I was the Super Woman the world had been waiting for: full-time barmaid, full-time parent, full-time student, full-time wife. I failed utterly due to sleep deprivation. But, the third time was a charm, as the saying goes.
Eventually, I divorced and worked several part-time jobs at a time, raised my children, earned degrees, and ten years later ended up directing a writing center and teaching English in a small Wyoming college, all without receiving welfare because I was entirely too pigheadedly proud to apply.
Throughout the years, I thought about my childhood, my parents, their lack of interest in parenting. While my mother’s lack of interest can be attributed to her poor health, physically and emotionally, my father seemed healthy and happy. Occasionally, I called and usually talked with my step-mother because my father was seldom home. I tried to explain that I had an intense need to know why I couldn’t seem to build a stronger bond with him, and why I felt so shut out of his life.
Eighteen months ago, she asked, “Can’t you just accept that this is the way things are?”
All that I wanted to say at that moment bottle-necked just below my larynx, making it impossible to either draw or expel breath. I squeezed out some lie about dinner burning and hung up.
Of course, I can’t “just” accept things the way they are. I am an active member of American Pigheadedness: pigheadedness pushed me through high school, despite being a statistic in an unflatteringly labeled spreadsheet column, through college despite poverty, no family health insurance, and single-parenthood, despite all sorts of well-intentioned advice to “accept” my lot in life.
I sincerely hope that pigheadedness never skips a generation.
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