Questions Never Asked

I’ve talked a lot about my parents in my articles over the years. They’ve been gone four years, but it feels like only yesterday that they made their final exit. They flicker in and out of my consciousness like fireflies on a summer night. Random memories of good times and bad. My father, tending his garden. So very proud of his tomatoes. Big. Ripe. Luscious. Their sweet juice adding a very special nuance to my mother’s Italian “gravy.”

My mother. The musky, animalistic scent of Shalimar lingering in my parents’ bedroom after a night out. And the arguments. Vicious. Raging. Fueled by alcohol…after a night out.

I don’t mean to cast my parents in a negative light. I hope that wherever they are, they know this. But, even though I loved them both — loved them to death — I often prayed that they’d call it quits. The fighting. The hurled invectives. Ugly words no one should ever have to hear. Everything combined, culminating in one simple, heart-rending truth: My mother and father were terribly unhappy people.

Depression got the better of them both. A disease that wasn’t openly talked about back then. Certainly not the way it is now. And instead of Prozac or Zoloft, my parents used vodka to self-soothe.

As the oldest of three siblings, I was around for a lot of the bad stuff. And those memories have proven to die hard, if at all. I also remember that I wasn’t an easy kid. OCD. Some bad choices, like driving over the Illinois border with my equally-underage friends so that we could get legally drunk in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Yeah, I tested their patience, for sure. And then there was the time my brother found my hastily torn off clothes in the back yard. Best not to expound on that.

Divorce. Aside from having to bear witness to their tearing each other apart, I wanted my parents to split up because I thought they’d be happier, that way. But I now realize that I didn’t know shit. And the reason for that, is I didn’t bother to ask.

“Mom, what would make you happy? What did you want for your life?”

“Dad, what did you want to be? Do?”

“Mom, Dad, why do you stay together?”

Very basic questions that would have given me the insight I lacked as to who they were as human beings.

My parents married very young. My mother birthed me at the tender age of twenty. She went straight from her girlhood bedroom to the marriage bed, in a small, Chicago apartment. And then, my father was sent to Korea. My mother packed us up and moved us back to her family home, where I was spoiled rotten by my grandparents and her four siblings. Incredibly, I remember snatches of that time. How does a baby form memory? I remember my grandfather hoisting me up on his knee and spooning up little sips of the sugary coffee that I loved. My grandmother rocking me in her arms, cooing a tune of her own making. I can see these blips in my past as clear as day.

And then there are those that I choose to slam the door on. Lights out. Nobody home. Don’t bother to knock.

Questions. So many.

Why now, am I thinking about this? I believe it’s because lately, I’ve been wondering how and why I’m so driven. So damned driven to make it. Whatever that means in the real world. And I have to acknowledge that much of this is due to my genetic makeup…to my parents. To the two most important people in my life.

Why didn’t I work harder? Ask more questions? Ask any questions? What was I so afraid of?

I was long into adulthood when my mother revealed to me that when she was a child, money was so scarce that she and her siblings had to be farmed out to relatives. This shocked me to the core. Why had I never known this? That revelation hurt, physically. My heart broke for her.

My father had his own traumas. His beloved dad was a gambler. His smothering mother may or may not have fooled around. He was an eloquent writer. Yet I never asked if that was something he’d thought of becoming.

I never asked my mother, who was a beautiful woman, if she had harbored aspirations or dreams or for that matter, any regrets that she married and gave birth to a child at such a young age. Yet, I believe in my heart that she did. But, because I didn’t ask, I can only imagine what those were.

How well do you know your own parents? Do you hold them at arms-length without realizing it?

Sometimes the simplest things are so hard for us. Inexplicably so. And because I don’t want you to have the same regrets that I do, here’s a thought: Interview the two people who made you. Sure, you may be stunned by some of the things you uncover, but you could be amazed and delighted, too. You may even want to write about it.

From, here are some questions to get you started:

  • What comes to mind when you think about growing up in (hometown)?
  • What did you love to do in high school? What was your favorite class?
  • Who was your best friend growing up and why?
  • What did you love to do in your free time?
  • Did you have a close relationship with your own parents?
  • What do you remember most about your Mom and Dad?
  • What do you remember most about your teenage years?
  • How did you know that Mom/Dad was the one?
  • How did you choose your career and is it what you thought it would be?
  • If you could be anywhere or do anything where/what would that be?
  • Were you ever scared to be a parent?

That’s more than enough to get you started. Probe. Question. Ask.

As it turns out, I paid tribute to my Mom and Dad by writing a screenplay about them. This is the script that my manager is currently shopping for. It documents how are relationship took a revelatory turn after all three of us were diagnosed with cancer. I pray every day that it gets produced.

Meanwhile, I think about the questions I never asked. It’s too late, now, but maybe, my parents are somewhere close…hovering just beyond the veil…and they can feel how sorry I am. They can feel it, because I am a part of them.

Who knows? I don’t.


Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.

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  1. Sherry – thanks for this. I’m kind of blown away, actually. My life with my parents was similarly troubled, and they have been gone now for a very long time. It was telling that, as my father’s Alzheimer’s progressed, he didn’t remember my mother in pictures – he outlived her by 11 years. I wanted so badly for them to divorce. But they didn’t. Now I want to know more, but they aren’t around. Given the circumstances, I don’t know that I could have done it differently, but I can say that I feel my mom’s presence over the last several years and the good memories are passing up the miserable ones. Maybe we’re both trying.

    • Thanks so much, Carol. In turn, I’m kind of blown away by how many people seem to relate to this. My problem is that I have a hard time thinking of them before their final days in hospice care and I need to get beyond that. I’m glad that for you, the happy memories are trumping the others. I appreciate your reading and commenting, very much.

  2. Wow! Sherry,
    Talk about timing..!….I just had a discussion on this idea of how your parents communication towards a child cultivates and has impact on who you become.
    As curious children we ask naturally. How they respond will encourage or shut you down.
    My parents had this mentality that it’s no one’s business. That we just don’t talk about things. Together they shared this view, but separately, my mother was the one that added more detail. I collected my pieces of information to review my family of origin at an early age.
    They also had this notion that children do not get to hear certain things. I discovered more after the age of 21 because I was dreamed an “ adult”. I thought is was silly but I had to accept what I was given. The reasons they acted the way they did… to me became my quest for justification. I searched their stories and applied the reasons for it to make sense to me. Instead of judging, I looked for reasons to support their actions. We want to see the good in those closest to us and look for the reasons to remove its prevention.
    Thanks for this article. It did hit home.