Not under His Thumb
My mother was under my father's thumb. I sure didn't want to be like her in that respect. But I think I am like her in other ways. Anyway, I got the feminine part down pat. But when it came to deferring to a male who was demanding? Not so much. That's where my mom and I differ radically. By observing my mother in her relationship with my father, I learned that women have different roles to play. I think she was right about that part. However, after four husbands, I don't think I'm a good candidate for wifedom. I like my independence too much.
A life of female servitude doesn't appeal to me mainly because I saw my mother being taken for granted. I don't have memories of any appreciation coming her way. Between my parents there was not the slightest gesture of fondness; no hand-holding or sitting close with arms around each other; and hardly ever a kiss. As the song goes, "Try a little tenderness." Where, oh where, was that tenderness? I wondered. Where was his appreciation for all she did as a wife, mother, and homemaker? Men who behave like that have only themselves to blame for the backlash.
My romantic life would be something quite different. I wasn't ever willing to settle for the dry, estranged relationship of my parents. I'm allergic to it. I knew I couldn't (and wouldn't) tolerate it. I suppose that in some way, I wanted to vindicate my mother's suffering and selflessness. Oh boy . . . Who can control the subconscious mind? Where was mine leading me? When I put myself in my mother's shoes, I thought how I would have walked out on my father long ago. It used to frustrate me that she put up with it. When I was about sixteen, I asked her why she'd stayed and didn't leave. She said it was for us, the children. She wanted us to finish school before she would even consider such a thing.
I was at the mercy of my turbulent family life. Like many children, my imagination allowed me to slip from the bounds of my dysfunctional family and invent another world to inhabit. Make-believe was a lovely place to be, and I could control it. It seemed as if I had always wanted to be an actress. Mom was encouraging, but no one pushed me into it. I took it upon myself to stir up some action, Andy Hardy–style, and started to put on plays in our garage using blue chenille bedspreads for curtains. All the neighbors came, and the kids on our block played the various parts.
Mercifully, my mother soon realized I was a budding performer and enrolled me in the San Diego Junior Theatre, an annex of San Diego's Old Globe. In my first play, I was surprised to be cast as the prince in The Princess and the Caterpillar. A boy! Why a boy? I was only seven, but it bothered me. Wasn't I pretty enough to be the princess?
Meanwhile, the more I performed, the more my father smiled and tapped his knee, in a kind of excited fashion. It was a good sign. But I had to be careful about that tapping. It might turn into a ticking time bomb.