Don’t go changing

When I was a teenager, I thought about this often. My father died when I was eight, and so in the chaos of my home life after that, I would daydream about what things would have been like. I’ve mused about that one often, turning it over in my head, especially as I’ve gotten older and learned more about my father and more about the world in general.

And then later, I was full of regrets about dumb things I had done, ways I had behaved poorly to others, and so forth.

I’m trying to remember what specific event triggered it, but at some point in college I decided that it was worthless to regret past choices. I want to say that it was related to the long-term drama of my friendship with K. Something about realizing that even really shitty times contributed to things that turned out pretty good, considering. (Oh, that’s not vague AT ALL.) And in fact, that long-term drama is probably my personal touchstone for “that thing that you thought you understood? nope, it’s going to be different than that.” (Which reminds me that I need to figure out a present for a great kid’s 13th (!!!!) birthday.)

With that went a decision that trying to work out alternate personal histories was an exercise in futility. Not that it’s not entertaining sometimes: I’m firmly convinced that there’s an alternate reality in which I am an adjunct English prof in Arizona or something. But it can also be wrenchingly painful, and quite possibly wrong.

Curiously enough, I tend to tie myself up in knots thinking about my personal politics of all things, when musing about “if Dad hadn’t died.” I’m pretty lefty, and not just with my handwriting. Dad, on the other hand, was not just 20 years Air Force, but according to other family members, fairly conservative. (He converted TO Catholicism, although I’m not entirely sure of the circumstances. And an uncle told me several years ago that he was passionate about utility deregulation. I’ve occasionally wondered what he would have thought of Enron.) On top of that, he and Mom always disagreed about politics, to the point that they had an agreement not to talk about politics at all.

Whereas when I was a teen and preteen, Mom watched the Sunday morning politics shows, and argued loudly with the TV, and we watched a lot of news, read the paper, etc. I registered voters for the Dukakis campaign when I was only 13. I was passionate about nuclear disarmament at about the same age, and a little earlier. Would I have had those opinions then — or my current ones now — if he’d been around as an influence? If so, would we have fought about it? Because my memories of Dad don’t include the struggles for independence that I fought with Mom later — and there were some doozies — so they’ve got a bit of rose-tinting to them. That’s the dark side of the alternate personal history: not just good things that might never have been, but bad things that might have happened.

I swear I’ve written about this before, because it’s something I’ve definitely (obviously!) thought about, but I have no idea when or what keywords to go searching with.

Other alternative history turning points that I’ve mused on: going to UPS. not going to library school. dating Raul (or yes, C). not going to Austin in ’97 to visit HA, and a few other things in relation to her. learning to bike later in life. All of which reinforces the idea that it’s all interconnected in really complicated ways. (Cue It’s a Wonderful Life.)

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