What are the most highly discussed topics in this scene of ours? Music, for sure. Fashion, of course. Upcoming events, absolutely. But there is one other subject that has certainly arisen at some point for each us: our parents. The inevitable question echoed when Goths congregate: “What do your parents think about you?” It is a question we ask one another, and one oftentimes posed to us by complete and total strangers.
While we commonly hear stories of how our alternative friends were rejected in some way by their more traditional families—from extreme tales of “disownment” to the more prevalent “they just don’t understand me”—it is important to realize that the Parent-Goth relationship does not have to be a conflict. Though it may take some time and effort, reconnecting with your family can be healthy, rewarding, and even—believe it or not—FUN! It is vital to remember, however, that a loving relationship with your parents is a two-way street.
Nothing can remind a person of the important things in life quite like a funeral. My father, William Cothron, passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly. While it was overwhelmingly difficult and sad, we were able to recognize the moment as a positive opportunity in disguise, a chance not only to celebrate his life, but to share the difference he made in the lives of those around him, especially his children.
William was a loving, hard-working, protective man passionately in love with his wife and devoted to his kids. He carried a gun, loved animals and gave great hugs. Like a superhero with a humble alter-ego, he was an auto factory-worker by day and creative-visionary by night. My first taste of “show biz” actually came at age 6 – being my Dad’s “boy assistant” for the Magic shows he performed for various charities and birthday parties in our home city of Louisville, KY. After retirement, William continued to expand his artistic interests with writing, producing and starring in three local films.
William was not judgmental of his three children’s sometimes unpredictable and—not to mention—unusual lifestyle choices: the flamboyant fashion & make-up obsessed Kent, the interior-designer daughter with Hollywood aspirations Camille, and the hippie environmentalistcommune-dwelling Blake. William accepted his children no matter what, regardless of his own expectations about how they would live their lives.
Watching my Dad’s example as I grew up showed me how to live respectfully and rewardingly, with people different from myself. I would like to share with you a list of tips that the experience of being his son has taught me. These things I learned firsthand from his inspiring words and actions in life, as well as from soul-searching in the shadow of his death.
Tips for Building Better Understanding with your Parents (I try to remind myself of these often):
(1) Communicate: Parents, by their very nature, like to worry about us. Although it’s difficult to admit to ourselves at times, that’s often a good thing. Make sure to talk to your parents regularly, as they are less likely to unnecessarily worry about you if they don’t feel like your lifestyle choice is creating distance. Whether it is simple small-talk over breakfast or late night philosophical diatribe, always try to keep the lines of communication open.
(2) Share don’t Shock: Try to share your lifestyle with your parents in ways that they can digest and understand. One way I was able to accomplish this was by introducing my parents to gothic music. I carefully selected the Cruxshadows CD Ethernaut because of the album’s iconic themes of heroism and honor which I knew they would respond well to. As time passed, my parents began to even bond with my fashion choices, as my own Mom began borrowing my Skelanimal hoodies! Find an aspect of the scene that you feel confident would be of interest to your parents and share that with them. One positive glimpse of your lifestyle can begin a cascade of greater understanding. Possible suggestions for sharing: uplifting music, ornate fashion, artwork you create, literature that inspires you, perhaps an issue of Gothic Beauty Magazine.
(3) Be Sensitive with your Self-Expression: There are times to express yourself full-force and there are times in this life when you inevitably need to “tone things down.” This was very difficult for me to grasp, at first, but I came to understand that my attire that worked amazingly well for a concert might not be the best choice for Thanksgiving dinner. Molding your aesthetic to fit different social contexts is not dumbing down your lifestyle choice, but rather empowering you with greater aesthetic versatility. Likewise, if your Mom is having company over for dinner and board games, try to listen to your EBM on headphones as opposed to loud speakers. Being sensitive and deliberate with your self-expression will build more bridges than it burns.
(4) Give and Receive Unconditional Acceptance: Admittedly, this part can be quite challenging. Remember what we said about the relationship with your parents being a two-way street? If you expect your Dad to accept your skinny jeans and studded belts, you need to accept his fashion choices as well, whether he prefers Levi’s or Prada. Your Mom made it a priority to drive you to the mall each week to meet-up with your friends — would it make her year if you went to church with her on Easter Sunday? Try to show interest in, or at least respect for, your parent’s lifestyle choices and hobbies. If you want them to respect your ideas, as hard it sounds, you have to challenge yourself to find respect and acceptance for theirs.
(5) Sustain Common Ground: Strive to cherish and sustain activities which you have always enjoyed together: Whether it’s a yearly trip to the Summer State Fair in your hometown, a walk in the forest during autumn when the leaves begin to change, or putting up the Christmas Tree together on a snowy December night. Finding social comfort and identity in a scene such as Goth, punk, or emo does not mean you have to divorce the things you enjoyed with your parents in your “pre-subcultural” days. Don’t be afraid to let go and be a kid when you share time with your parents. It is nostalgic and comforting for them to know that deep down you are still their little boy or girl. Sometimes it’s a relief to remind yourself that we can all let our cool guard down when we aren’t at a show or a club.
(6) Do Not Leave Things Unsaid: This part can be stressful. Every person has a different “comfort level” with their expression of feelings. Some of us are “waterfalls” with the outward manifestations of our feelings and others are tight faucets that only leak our personal thoughts under extreme duress. No matter where you fit within this spectrum, make it a point to let your parents know you love them and that they are in your thoughts. Even if you are not comfortable vocally-sharing this, a meaningful well-written card on Father/Mother’s Day will let them know you care and will leave you without regrets when someday they are gone.
This article is dedicated to the wonderful parents who put their love for their children above their initial apprehension of their lifestyle choice and to the creative children who strive to make their parents feel special, appreciated and wanted. Remember, it’s easy to assume your parents are physically and emotionally “invincible”, but their hearts are just as fragile as your own. With Love to our Moms, Dads, Brothers, Sisters, Kent and Vyxsin