Saturday, November 15, 2008

Zombies, Parenting and the Loss of Identity

"They're coming to get you, Barbra."
-Johnny, Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A few years back I wrote an article on the history of zombies in pop culture and delved into the psychology behind what makes them scary. One aspect of the zombie in most fiction is its loss of identity. While modern zombies (post 1968) shown in films tend to come from different backgrounds based on the clothing they are seen wearing, they all lose their individuality and are ultimately identical in function and purpose. Even the classic voodoo zombie is an example of identity loss through slavery.

If you watch one of Romero's zombie films you will see zombies from all sorts of backgrounds; nurses, baseball players, mechanics, clowns, soldiers, farmers, etc. As zombies, however, they are just part of a mindless teeming mass united in a single goal. With a few minor exceptions, they seem to all lose their personalities. For example: In the original Dawn of the Dead (1978), one of the most tense moments in the film is an attack by a zombie that was dressed as a Hare Krishna. While he most likely was once a pacifist, as a zombie he's now robbed of his personal mores, decisions and identity.

As an adult I've found that marriage and parenthood can result in some identity loss as well. When you become part of a serious couple, you are no longer always Richard...quite often you will find that you are referred to in the collective, Richard and Jane. You'll also find that friends will act differently around you. Single friends may be uncomfortable around you, because you've become one of "them." Isn't that the real horror of zombie films? The fear of "them" and becoming "them"... whoever "they" are that you are afraid of. Eek! The Communists/Republicans/Mormons/Gays/Muslims/insert whatever culture of people worries you are at your door, wanting to convert you as well! In the case of a single friends perspective of your transformation during a relationship, perhaps the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a better reference. "It looks like the buddy I used to party with...but he's wearing a sweater...and using a coaster!" and "Oh god, I think he might be trying to fix me up with her sister!"

The same can happen with divorce or breakups. I've made friends with couples as a couple and had them part ways after a few years of knowing them. It can feel odd in the years afterward. "Richard and Jane" becomes "Richard" and "Jane." The dynamic that was there when you became friends has changed. I've had friends in this situation where hanging out with them after a breakup felt like hanging out with someone who suffered a head trauma that resulted in a loss of a familiar aspect of their personality. There's a feeling of disability even when the breakup has a positive impact on the person's life. I was married once before. My divorce was definitely a positive move for me. However, I did notice it made an impact on my friendships that varied widely from positive to negative (even though I wasn't the one who had been unfaithful and wasn't even the one who asked for the divorce). Some people couldn't be friends with both of us separately, or the dynamic had just changed too much for friendship to remain comfortable.

Upon becoming a parent, I discovered a bigger bite taken out of the identities of my wife and I. We weren't even "Tom and Kristy" to many people in our neighborhood within a year of Kyra's birth. We were "Kyra's Mom and Dad." We'd bump into another couple with a child at the local store or on the street and that was what we'd hear; "Oh hey! It's Kyra...and her parents."

Even before that point, we were finding less time to practice the things that were integral to being "us." Kristy was finding little time for playing her piano. I had hobbies that got boxed up and thrown into the attic to make way for baby stuff and also because I just plain didn't have time. We both were regular readers, but our book reading slowed to a trickle. It was the same with sex and intimacy between Kristy and I.

Now that I'm a stay-at-home dad, I have become more active in our small community and more people have gotten to know my name. Still, I can tell that a lot of folks I'm talking with at playgroups and what not see me first and foremost as "Kyra's dad." I'm not the star of my own show. I'm a supporting character in The Life of Kyra. Luckily for me, it's a pretty fun show and I'm lucky to land the part. It just takes some adjustment. I think it became even more noticeable to me in some ways because of leaving my job. My solo identity was a bit more publicly stable there. I wonder if housewives and other househusbands have experienced the same thing upon giving up careers to be at home.

Kristy and I reached a point of misery in how many of the things we love we'd been sacrificing. We've been making a bit more effort to make sure each of us has some "me" time. However, we'll never be who we were again. When our kids grow older and fly out of the nest, we probably won't know what to do with ourselves and the free time we'll have. I also think of people out there who have kids that are more like accessories. I especially get that feeling when I see the children of celebrities on TV. In that case it seems all too often the child's identity suffers under the weight of the parent's.

I've also noticed that over the past three years of being parents, Kristy and I have made friends we wouldn't have before. We'll make friends just because the people also have children around Kyra's age. It's an odd sensation. When we hear that one of our childless couple friends are expecting we rejoice, not just for them...but because there's more of "us" in the social circle. The parents. So now we're not just looking to fix up those single friends, we're trying to get them to have kids too. Make them into one of us.

"Gooble gobble! One of us! One of us!"
-Freaks (1932)

For someone like my brother, who is single and plans to never have children...we have become "them."


Douglas said...

Excellent! As usual. One other thing I noticed is the tendency of friends to refer to couples in hierarchical terms. That is, it will be "Rick and Jane" but not "Jane and Rick". Though, sometimes, her friends will say "We haven't seen Jane and Rick lately" while his friends will say "We need to drop in on Rick and Jane." This is something I noticed in my first marriage where I because more and more the second name in the CoupleName.

thebonebreaker said...

Excellent Post Tom ~ Well said! :-)

Anna Lefler said...

Oh, man, your blog is awesome. So glad you visited mine and became a follower - thanks.

I can TOTALLY relate to this post - I often comment to others that I'm basically just a roadie around here at this point.

As a full-time mom, I love hearing a dad's take on all of this...I look forward to reading more of your posts!

Take care...

:^) Anna

Me-Me King said...

Love this post! I can relate.

Robot Nine said...

Wow, such great thoughts. My brother is a horror fan, and reading your blog made me think of him and our lives. If only he would drag himself into the 90's and go online I could refer him to your blog. Cute daughter, love her knife and evil look!

*melissa* said...

One of the signs of good writing is when you read something and it awakens you to knowledge/views you already had but had failed to consciously observe until seeing it in text. It is true that as an unmarried childless person that I often think of married people or people with children as some sort of alien "other". :) But up until this moment I'd never quite realized I do that lol. Although since I lived with & helped to raise my niece for a few years I have actually been one of the zombies without any identity or time of my own. And it's true that once you are given back yr identity & time you don't quite know what to do with it. I've been back to being just myself for several months now & I'm still adjusting. Once in awhile I still find myself craving human flesh and attacking random farmhouses... :)