Different Types by
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My parents were very different. We were never quite sure why they married in the first place, or how they stayed together as long as they did. Dad was a home-spun philosopher, having come from a difficult family situation. His mother was bipolar, started in and out of mental institutions when my dad was 8 and was permanently institutionalized when he was 12. He was the youngest of 8 siblings (Grandma had the last two to “cure her”; evidently she was more stable with pregnancy hormones onboard, but no one understood that at the turn of the 20th century). My dad tried to keep a positive outlook his whole life, read Norman Vincent Peale and practiced “PMA”: positive mental attitude. I think it got him through a lot of tough times.

My dad used to say, “To have a friend, be a friend”. I repeat that often.

He wrote this to me on my first day of college:

“Fears result from loneliness.

Boredom and fatigue follow.

Let your smile open the door to friendship.

Excel in something – so that you have something to give.

Give generously and receive graciously.

To be happy – have a friend – be a friend.

Friendship is man’s greatest treasure.”

He was quite a guy…I miss him dearly. He’s been gone 26 years.

My mother was something else entirely; hard to please, stingy with compliments, full of self-loathing and bigotry. She was smart, very cultured and I got that from her, but steered clear of the rest. She referred to gospel singing as “coon shouting”. She already had dementia and was in a nursing home at the time of the 2008 election. A life-long Democrat, I tried to get the nurses to not allow her to vote, as she really wasn’t capable of making an informed decision. I had her at an eye doctor appointment when I discovered she had already voted absentee for McCain – unthinkable for her in her right mind! I asked if she knew any of his positions? She finally admitted that she wouldn’t vote for the schwarz (Yiddish for black…Obama).  Yes…a very different point of view from my father’s. One parent wrote encouraging words, the other ranted nasty stuff. I chose to take after the former.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: friendship, bipolar, PMA, bigotry
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Such a difference in outlook! I’m thankful that you had at least one warm and supportive parent to take after. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Such clear, articulate, and disparate portraits, and all painted with an impressionist’s brush. Whew…

  3. Brava Betsy for your insight and understanding of your difficult mother and your strength in coping with a painful reality.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Dana. I was trying to describe my mother to friends (who also know my brother) last night at dinner. The wife regularly reads these stories, so knows the recent ones about birth order and ways in which I’d never behave like my mother, but I tried to describe my mother to her husband. I brought up many unpleasant memories, but also my capacity to find surrogate mothers all my life, and of course, the kindness and empathy of my father. It is interesting to go back and look at this story after so many years. My father’s words are still meaningful and ring true, some 50 years later.

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