When were your folks the happiest? April 8, 2021 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I just happened to come across my old flickr account, and it had some pictures I'd taken over a decade back, when dad was still alive and mom was ...not as... senior-ish, as she is now. They both looked really happy together, at the time. I don't think I may have seen my father ever smile, a bit, or mom being as accepting as she was of her husband.

My younger sister had gotten married to a wonderful man recently, and my youngest was turning out to be just as remarkable as her elder sister... all was good... as good as it gets.

(ps. wasn't quite sure what to put in the category box, so hope i didn't bungle that up)
posted by hadjiboy to Feature Requests at 6:12 PM (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

I love that photo!

My parents have been divorced since 1994. Over the last 10 or so years they let a lot of water flow under the bridge and talked a few things out. When they see each other now (once or twice a year, pre-pandemic) they have such a friendly and easy rapport that it warms my heart. There’s an fondness between them that I never remember seeing as a child. They even text each other! It turns out that they are better at being friends than they ever were at being spouses.

So, now!
posted by kimberussell at 6:32 PM on April 8, 2021 [11 favorites]

Long before I was born, apparently.
posted by workerant at 7:46 PM on April 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

My parents married very young... she was 17 and he was 20. (I was on the way.) I don't know for sure if they were happy at first, but as a kid I always assumed they were. I remember my mom had this red-and-white checkered cookbook, and on the inside she had signed her name "Mrs. David Smith". I can't help but think she must have been very excited to be a new bride at that point. She and my dad bought a small house and filled it with antique furniture they bought at auction sales on the weekends. She was a homemaker who crocheted and baked and picked wildflowers to fill the brown crockery vase on the old farmhouse kitchen table. My dad once told me they had planned on having five kids, but they only made it to two before the marriage started to crumble. My dad worked two jobs but money was still tight, and he was rarely home so I'm sure that took its toll. They divorced when I was ten. But I still think that hopeful little home was happy for them for a few years at least.

My mom married a succession of terrible men, and I don't think there was ever a time after that when she was truly happy. She passed away six years ago. My dad remarried, divorced again, and then eventually settled down with a woman who he likes but claims he does not love, though they've been together over 30 years. He once told me my mother was the only woman he was ever in love with.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:37 PM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

My parents retired in the 2010s (my mom in 2014, my dad in 2018) and it's been really lovely to see how happy they are being together in retirement. This is something I was genuinely worried about, because retirement is such a big life transition and they both (but especially my dad) had a very strong sense of professional identity.

They are happier now than I've ever seen them! It turns out that all the stress and tension in the home I grew up in was spillover from work -- they both worked at the same company and watched it get run into the ground by incompetent management, but were trapped by golden handcuffs of a sweet sweet retirement pension that has now funded a lot of retirement travel (pre-covid). For a few years, every time I called them, they'd be like "can't talk now! we're going to a music program! we're going to the theatre! we're going for a hike!" I had this weird cognitive dissonance of that's awesome versus who are you and what have you done with my parents?

Which is not to say that their retirement has been a pure honeymoon -- my mom had a health scare; my dad was involved in a whistleblower thing; they spent their 37th anniversary on a covid-related repatriation flight (honestly, probably the best anniversary present imaginable at that time); they continue to bicker like, well, an old married couple. But now that they have their time back, it's so gratifying to see them actively spending it with each other.
posted by basalganglia at 4:08 AM on April 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure I've ever seen my parents happy. It could be they save it for in private. But I don't know.
posted by eirias at 4:23 AM on April 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

My parents' story is similar to basalganglia's. My father never really liked his job - it was a "I need to make money and I guess I can tolerate this thing" kind of job - but he did it well enough to retire early, and was a lot happier after that, especially since that's about the time he discovered cooking. My mother did like her job - she was always so good with little kids I call her "The Toddler Whisperer", and she became a child care worker - but doesn't miss the actual work, and had her grandkids to dote on soon anyway. My parents moved to a "dream house" in Cape Cod soon after he retired, which made them both happy - and they were near my mother's cousin and her husband, who dragged them along on all kinds of international vacations for several years.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:27 AM on April 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

My parents' story is rather like kimberussel's. I think they were only married for two years, but apparently that year around when I was born was amazing! Then everything went to shit. After a couple decades they started to be able to hang out again, and now they have an easy friendship. I don't know if either of them is happy like they were back then, but they do seem more content these days.

A few years ago my parents were hanging out somewhere without me, and my wife handed me the phone and said, "your parents want talk to you". I never remembered my parents being together, and so I had never heard that utterly pedestrian sentence directed at me before. The resulting jolt of cognitive dissonance left me speechless and nearly knocked me over.
posted by Alex404 at 4:49 AM on April 9, 2021 [9 favorites]

My parents were married for almost 10 years before I was born, and have continued to be married for the approximately 8 years since my younger brother has been off their payroll, so nearly 44 years total.

They seem plenty happy now and I have to assume they were happy prior to having kids, but they were absolutely miserable during the entire time they spent in active parenting. Never let us forget it, either. They are the textbook example of having kids for status and because it was The Thing To Do, but it was very clear that the practicalities of it sucked all of the joy from their life. So I'm not sure I've ever seen them actually happy, because their happiness is directly proportional to the radius of distance between me and them.

I live 1000 miles away and I think it's the best anniversary gift I can continue to give them.
posted by phunniemee at 7:06 AM on April 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

I think my dad is the happiest he's ever been now. He's married to his third wife and, while I don't see him much, as far as I know she takes care of him and she's pretty easy going, which is what he needs. My dad is that sort of old-school guy who needs a wife around. He had a rough childhood, his mom made him drop out of school in 9th grade to go work and help support his sisters, and then he met and married my mom who was... difficult.

I'm not sure when my mom was at her happiest. While she was married to my dad she was miserable. My dad was mostly angry and drunk for most of their marriage. I do remember plenty of times when they laughed and seemed like they were getting along but it never lasted very long until they were screaming again. There was a lot of screaming.

I guess my mom was happiest when my child was young. She didn't get to spend much time with my brother's kids so my kid was basically the grandchild she always wanted. She was a much better grandmother than she was a mother (though she tried her best with us) and since by that point she was long divorced and retired she was much more relaxed.

My wife and I are extremely happy. It's really hard to fathom sometimes because of what I grew up with. I guess I learned from my parent's mistakes.
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 AM on April 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

I really think every new year is the most joyful year for my parents, even though there have been some challenges and personal losses over the decades. As for smiling in photos, neither of them were ever very good at it. So thankful for them!
posted by michaelh at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2021

My mother swears up and down that she and my father were super happy, super in love, definitely kind of the love of each others' lives. But I have zero memory of them being happy, and really not even many photographs. In their wedding photos they seem...awkward? But in those photos my mom is 3 months pregnant (with me) and she says that at the wedding she was horribly tired and nauseated. So, fair cop.

I know that they intentionally had two more kids, and they always agreed they liked parenting more than they liked anything else, so I'm guessing that in my toddler/young childhood they were decently happy. My dad had some promising career success, they bought a "starter home," yadda. But then my dad made a lot of perplexing and disastrous job choices and that is really where my memory kicks in--constant tension, fights about money, eviction notices, night jobs that meant they never saw each other (on purpose), and then the not-a-surprise-to-anyone-at-that-point divorce.

But neither of them had a permanent relationship after their divorce (my dad barely ever even dated). After a cooling-off period they were actually the best of friends, and very good coparents. When my brother was hospitalized the staff all assumed they were still married. So I don't know, maybe they were the loves of each others' lives after all. Another casualty of capitalism, perhaps.

I don't know if either of them would have described a whole time period as "happy." Just good days here and there. None of us kids have proven to be much good at relationships either, or at happiness. It's hard being a person.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:09 AM on April 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

I think, in a way similar to many people whose parents stuck together and had a generally good marriage, that they were happiest in about a 10-year span after my dad retired and the grandkids started showing up, but before the Alzheimer's started hitting. My dad liked his job, but it was stressful and subject to the vagaries of internal and actual politics, so he jumped at the opportunity for early retirement at age 61 (my mom, OTOH, retired only reluctantly a couple years ago, at age 83). They were able to make several major trips, and my dad was still able to do what he did best--administrate and chair meetings--in volunteer/service roles. I think he was definitely happier and more hands-on being a grandpa than being a dad--not that he was a bad dad or an angry dad, but he also wasn't especially happy or fun or playful that I recall.
posted by drlith at 9:22 AM on April 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

There was a lot of screaming.

So. Much. Screaming. I think for me my parents were at their happiest when they were working on projects together and at their least happiest when they were trying to work out some of their fundamental values conflicts. Both of them probably had untreated mental health issues and so while I've definitely arrived at a place of "they did their best" empathy, I harbor a small amount of resentment that I grew up in a household completely devoid of models of "How to be in a loving relationship" or "How to work out conflicts like grown-ups" I like to think that I learned some of these things as I got older.

I'm fortunately to have a LOT of photographs of my family--from great grandparents down to me and my sister from her birthday last week) for most times other than the tricky "We just split up" few years (which were, unfortunately, my high school years). Some of these are nice weird family photos (example, I am the older child) and some I just keep in a gallery I call Worst Vacation Ever because my parents... didn't know how to have fun together.

I think my mom wound up happy as an older person, once cancer kind of gave her a fixed life-timeline (super weird thing to think/say but she wouldn't have retired otherwise and she enjoyed her retirement a great deal) and my father had a decently-successful second marriage and set up a lovely house with his second wife, until that kinda fell apart too. She just DMed me on Facebook out of the blue and I don't think I've said ten words to her since my father died in 2011, so I guess I can start learning to work out my feelings like a grown up and say hi back.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:24 AM on April 9, 2021 [10 favorites]

Both of them probably had untreated mental health issues

I think so many of us might have had better childhoods if ADHD and depression were diagnosed and treated back then.
posted by bondcliff at 10:50 AM on April 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Yeah or even understood. My father was probably somewhere on the spectrum which would have been less of an issue if that had been understood by my mom (or him) at the time so it could have been better accommodated and/or he could have maybe understood his drinking through that lens. And my mom had something like narcissistic personality disorder but was also, especially as a younger woman, very attractive and charismatic, so tended to get people on her side and was exceptionally unkind to whoever was unfavored-family-member of the moment. I am so so lucky to have a sister who can both share my version of reality (so many competing ones when we were kids) and who would be someone I know how to have a good time with (example)
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:58 AM on April 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

The thing about being born in the '70s is that all the action footage of my parents in the before times is from silent 8mm films. My dad was the cameraperson, so of course he rarely featured, but there's lots of wonderful and amazing footage of my mom and her twin sister, looking like the radiantly beautiful young women that they were. Smiling and laughter was the order of the day, if the footage is to be believed.

Then you find the audio cassettes. Recorded contemporaneously to the super 8 footage, but on different occasions. Usually ostensibly festive ones, like holidays and birthday parties. And while he is younger, and with a slightly less serrated edge, he's still the snarky, petty, mean little man that I remember for my entire life. Near-constant assholery behind the scenes. I don't know how my mom put up with it or why, but they divorced when I was two years old. And although he continued to sow decades of misery in our post-nuclear family until the day my mom died, I'm sure she was at least somewhat relieved to not have to listen to that shit 24/7 anymore.

So, in short ... the evidence tells very different stories. I'm inclined to think my dad was never happy, and did his best to make sure no one else was, either. So if there was happiness, it was in spite of him, not because.
posted by mykescipark at 7:55 PM on April 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Well I’m kind of loving the turn this thread is taking. When I was about six, my parents, divorced since I was two, rented a cabin in Cherokee NC for Christmas. I remember I got a Betty Crocker Easy Bake Oven and a toy sewing machine that sewed by laying down a line of glue. I was in my room playing with them, happily deluded that my parents were going to get married again, when the sound of shouting reached my ears.

Earlier today I texted my mom to ask what that was all about. Were they trying to get back together? Noooo. Well maybe he was. “I wanted to get a pair of beaded moccasins.”

Anyway, to answer the question, that was the happiest I remember them! For real. It’s actually the only “them” I remember.
posted by HotToddy at 8:03 PM on April 9, 2021

Go to 8:36.

This is one of the few times I saw my dad verbally appreciate my mom.
posted by bendy at 9:45 PM on April 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

My parents loathed one another, had nothing in common, spent no time together, had no social life together (my alcoholic dad went to the pub every night or drank alone indoors) but together they created a terrible environment for children to grow up in. I don't remember them ever having any fun together, and never heard them laughing together, but oh, so much arguing.

Also, so good to see your name here again, hadjiboy.
posted by essexjan at 2:14 PM on April 10, 2021

As far as I can tell, my mom is happier every time I talk to her. She's gone through a lot of bad experiences in her life. Every year seems a little better. She's got some age-related difficulties, but she's found a genuinely caring partner for the first time in her life and isn't struggling to pay the bills. Her worries are much smaller now, if not less numerous. I don't really know when my dad was happiest. Probably when he was in his early '20s and hadn't given up on a music career to settle for a soul crushing job and abusing the people around him as a creative outlet.

I suspect my parent's have never really been happy. Not in the way that I've experienced. They were certainly never happy together during my remembered life. My mom talks about singing joyful show-tunes while walking down the street the day she was married. I can't imagine it and the the wedding photos are not entirely convincing. But, I'm glad she experienced the expectation of happiness.

Cheers to those who find happiness, including the OP's parents. I don't always succeed, but I'm doing a hell of a lot better than my parents and most of my friends.
posted by eotvos at 2:55 PM on April 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I interpreted this question as "when were they the happiest in their relationship," but if we're talking about when they were the happiest individually, I'm delighted to say that my mom, like eotvos's, just keeps getting happier. She's 76 now, lives alone with her cute little mop of a dog, has just enough money, and is so cheerful and contented. It's really something. She has bone-on-bone arthritis in both shoulders but other than that she lives in a happy little world of nesting bluebirds and dog antics and freshly baked pies. It gives me hope for my own future.

My dad died at 56, estranged from his parents, children, and siblings, and was a miserable human being all the years preceding, so I don't have an answer for him.
posted by HotToddy at 4:02 PM on April 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I had a shock once, on finding a strip of photobooth pics of my parents together, achingly young and smooth-faced and laughing together. They split when I was under 2.

My mom and my stepdad had several happy years together when I was young, and then several more of increasing tension and fighting before splitting when I was 13.

She and my dad have both since remarried people of whom I am individually very fond, and have grown into happinesses that are really nice to be around.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 5:55 PM on April 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I didn't really get it as a kid, of course, but I am quite sure my parents did not love each other for most of their marriage. What is oddly more jarring as an adult is realizing that I can barely remember times my parents seemed to even *like* each other. There was no physical abuse, there was some yelling and fighting, but large swaths of my childhood was like living with two lukewarmly civil roommates. They did finally end it when I was a teenager. It honestly makes me sad. I know it's not the kids' fault if the parents are mostly together for the kids but I honestly do feel like they'd both have been happier without us.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:22 PM on April 10, 2021

Yeah, I'm not sure my parents were ever happy together. I never saw it, in part because I rarely saw them together at all. They divorced when I was seven. I barely have any memories of my dad before that, and one of them is that he missed my siblings' birthday party (they're twins) one year, must've been their fourth birthday, because he broke his leg in a DUI car accident on his way home from work. From what I've heard, I don't think they were terribly happy together before I was born. I heard a rumor from a relative that my grandparents essentially gave my mom an ultimatum when she dropped out of college, to either go back or get married. And I guess my dad was the singlest guy around. Their relationship seems to have mostly involved going to parties and doing drugs until I came around, at which point my mom stopped going to parties and doing drugs and my dad, well, didn't. They were in the same room together a few times after the divorce, the usual stuff: graduations, my hockey games, I think they were both at my state Geography Bee. My mom went to my paternal grandmother's funeral. But they never sat anywhere near each other, and never talked. Only one exception, in 1990 when Fantasia was re-released to theaters. They both took us together. No idea why. It was a movie; they couldn't talk there, either, really. But it's the only time in my entire life when I remember all five of us in a single party. No one has ever explained it.

I've seen my dad pretty happy on his own. He did some historical reenactment stuff for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial where they literally re-enacted the Lewis and Clark expedition, like, going up the Missouri river on boats wearing huge wool coats and sleeping in tents in like North Dakota. I saw some photos and literally barely recognized him. He told me it was the most meaningful, exciting thing he'd ever been a part of, aside from the birth of his kids, and mentally I corrected him by leaving off the last part of his sentence, because let's be real.

My mom is tougher. I'm sure she'd tell you she's been really happy a bunch of times. She's a pretty optimistic person. Things have a way of working out for her. But like, single mother, small town, not very much money, no degree, not a lot of family support. Things were pretty tough for her even without all the stuff with my dad. My memories of her being happy are generally overcoming something hard, not just like, sitting back and relaxing. I know she's been truly happy, because I can see its absence, like when she goes through TSA after visiting my kids.

For a long time, I was self-conscious about my own existence, because I was certain that my parents would both have been happier had they not been married. But if they'd never gotten married, I'd never have been born, and so... paradox. As I got older, I had a realization that valuing my mere existence as much as their individual happiness was pretty selfish of me, and yes, things would have been better if I didn't exist. Then I had kids, and my wife and I started having problems, and a lot of things started to make more sense. But that's not the question you asked, I guess.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:47 PM on April 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

And before you say that nobody has memories of anyone before they're seven, that's just not true for me. I have a significantly above average memory, and I have vivid pre-divorce memories of my mom, my siblings, my grandparents, other relatives, neighbors, teachers, classmates, the cashier at the pharmacy where my mom took me to buy baseball cards on the walk home from kindergarten... Just not my dad, with two exceptions, one of which is above.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:51 PM on April 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry that so many of you experienced such loveless parental marriages.

My parents have been together for 54 years. I don't know what they would say but I think they may be happiest now, since retirement etc., despite some health issues and the general fun! of aging.

they do stuff together and smile in the pictures and seem more relaxed than ever. they definitely fought quite a bit when I was a kid and went through some difficult times, but I think they do love each other (I've had my doubts in the past...)

I definitely remember stuff pre-7. we moved when I was 6 and I remember a lot of stuff from the old house.
posted by supermedusa at 1:19 PM on April 13, 2021

My parents were divorced and had a difficult relationship, but they co-parented us well together, and I have fond memories of seeing them companionably have a drink or a smoke together while discussing things they had in common. I like to remember them recommending each other books and music, or talking about that crazy thing their mutual acquaintance did etc. I realise that even though they weren't well-suited as partners they actually had a lot in common.

I know from photographs that they were very happy before I was born and when I was a baby. They stopped being a happily married couple when I was quite young but I do remember sneaking out of bed one night when they had friends over, and seeing them slow-dancing in the living room. It BLEW MY MIND, I'll never forget it.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:59 AM on April 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think my parents were very happy in the ten years they were married before my sister and I came along. Probably for most of the time after that too. When my dad retired (involuntarily, and early) they started travelling and had fun together. Now he's suffering from dementia and she's his primary caregiver. The dementia has stripped away all of his positive attributes and left mostly negatives.

The negatives are important because my parents were both grievously abused as children, particularly my dad, who is utterly unreflective about his trauma and how it affects him and the way he treats people. He's a deeply insecure gaslighter and she's an appeaser and that dynamic only gets worse. He is unable to form meaningful friendships and punishes her emotionally for trying to so they are both completely isolated.

So I believe they were happy in their youth, but I think it has increasingly been a case of him becoming more bitter and her living in a state of denial and appeasement for the subsequent forty years and to the extent that they've been happy in that time it has mostly been a question of forgetting their pain in the moment or a desperate (though unconscious) charade.
posted by klanawa at 2:25 PM on April 15, 2021

My parents are undoubtedly happiest when their 4 kids are all home.

It's not the same when only SOME of us are home.

It's not the same when only ONE of us is visiting.

When we're all home together, you can almost feel my parents radiating with happiness, even when they're in the background of the action. It's like our family is greater than the sum of its parts.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:55 AM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

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