"I always wanted to build model planes," he said, wistfully examining the partially finished one on the table. "My father would not allow it. He collected stamps, so we collected stamps." - King George VI in The King's Speech.
Of all the dialogue in this outstanding movie we saw on New Year's Eve, this gave me sudden pause.
It is not, after all, too surprising that much might be expected of a king's child. Great privilege is accompanied by great expectations. How difficult it must be to live such a life, especially in the age of ubiquitous media. I feel a certain pity for Kate Middleton, whose life can certainly never be normal again. I actually wept in the theater for King George VI and his terrible predicament.
What a compelling depiction this was of the effect a tyrannical parent can have on a child. Ultimately, George V admitted the respect he had for his second son - too little, too late.
Throughout history, a certain personality type has been attracted to a throne. Genghis Khan, Elizabeth I, Julius Caesar... none of these was a gentle or shy type. I believe many surgeons share this same super-Type A personality. I recognize it in myself. Without some such traits, it is difficult to get through training and be successful in this field.
Rulers must not show weakness; they must appear confident at all times. They must relish control and enjoy making decisions that affect the lives of real people. So it is with surgeons (and some other specialists) as well. The OR is very like a small kingdom in many ways.
It can be difficult sometimes to moderate those personality traits at home with family. Clearly being so Type A has its advantages, but there can be a dark destructiveness to it. King George VI evidently knew that well.
I can understand his father, George V. As a successful monarch, he must have wanted his children to be just like him. Anything less would imply failure on his part to produce equally successful offspring. He must have felt the need to control his children's development as he controlled everything else. When he could not correct their flaws, he felt disappointed, frustrated, even betrayed. He could not countenance failure.
I admit that I have felt shades of this. I suspect I'm not the only one. Like many surgeons, I have always been successful at most things; I have never really had to face a major failure. I have generally been able to make things happen the way I want them to. Raising a child, however, is different.
My son is the most precious thing in my life. My greatest wish is for him to ultimately be happy and successful. I know he is not me; I don't really want him to be. He is a different person, and that's a wonderful thing. I would never push him into a field he didn't love - yes, including medicine. Nothing could change my love for him.
Nonetheless, I have found my Type A side struggling at times. Two things have bothered me the most.
He is not a straight A student. He has the ability, but he just is not motivated to accomplish this. I tell myself that he is just 12 and that B's and C's are OK. He may buckle down as he matures. We make sure he gets his work done, and we try to help him study for tests, but he's just not interested. He would much rather play hockey or watch ESPN. This is so frustrating to me... and I can't understand it. At a visceral level, I can't imagine not having the drive to be top of the class.
Worse, he hates to read. Loathes it! Even before he was born, I dreamed of reading together with him. I imagined sharing the books I have loved all my life, laughing and crying with him over the pages. I know now this will never happen. It may sound silly, but this is possibly the biggest disappointment I have ever known. But I can't change him, make him love something he doesn't.
None of this sits well with the controlling part of me. At times, I'm tempted to yell my frustration at him, force a book into his hands, take away his sports. Obviously, I tell myself, that wouldn't be fair, and it would only make him resent me. Type A or not, I don't want to be King George V, dictating what my son will and will not enjoy, will and will not do.
I've been mulling over the reasons that scene moved me so. I think it had something to do with recognition, and with fear.
Kings or physicians, our children are the most important part of us. We want so much to see the best of ourselves in them. We work so hard in part to give them the best opportunities to build a satisfying life for themselves. We know only one route to success and happiness, the one we have walked ourselves. We fear that their differences from us may spell difficulty for them, or even failure. Where they fail, we feel that we have failed.
Further, we crave a lasting bond with our children, one that will connect us through the years and the inevitable separations. Subconsciously or consciously, we try to cultivate similar tastes and interests, ways to understand each other better. The love comes naturally; the mutual understanding is harder. We fear loss and loneliness.
My biggest challenge may be letting my son grow into a different person without trying too hard to interfere. I can't change my surgeon's Type A-ness, and I can't change him. Nor can I change my hopes for his future. Perhaps my New Year's resolution should be to interest myself more in the things he naturally enjoys instead of yearning to make him over in my own image. I should focus less on my own disappointments and more on the joy of who he is. Truly, there is so much to be joyful about.
Since the time of Dickens and before, parents have had Great Expectations for their children. Let us have the wisdom to recognize our own fears and shortcomings, and to temper those expectations with purely unselfish love.