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September 21, 2015


Parents are role models during a child’s formative years, and mine were no exception. Although my mother has many good qualities, she’s aggressive, alienating people with her intelligence and off-the-grid opinions. She was never popular with neighbors and family members but she always manipulated situations to her benefit. In contrast, Dad was kind and gentle, beloved by animals, good at sports, smart and easy-going. But Dad had one troubling characteristic—passivity. He was uncomfortable around educated people and had a terrible inferiority complex because of his lack of education. He started pumping gas at thirteen to help put food on the table for his brothers and sisters. Being illegitimate, which I was unaware of until an adult, contributed to his lack of self-esteem.


Dad was a professional mechanic, repairing fire trucks and ambulances for the City of Sunnyvale in California. He never made waves, and never questioned anyone’s motives. Like Will Rogers, Dad never met a man he didn’t like. “No” was not a word in his vocabulary; neighbors and family members took advantage of his accommodating nature, leaning on him for car repairs until my mother put an end to it. Fed up with Dad spending most of his free time under other people’s cars, she broadcast the news that Dad was no longer available for free automotive services and people should find their own mechanic and pay like everyone else to have work done.


As a result, Mom was considered a villain while Dad continued to be held in high regard by neighbors and family members. Since I didn’t want to be considered a villain and wanted to be popular, I tried to pattern myself after Dad.


I recall the time I took the future Mrs. Chatterbox to our Senior Prom. I’d made reservations at a fancy Polynesian establishment near San Francisco called The Lanai. I needn’t have made reservations. We arrived at five-thirty, me in a rented tux and my date looking incredible in her pale blue prom dress. I felt sooooo grown up as we were escorted through half a dozen empty rooms and were seated in a tight space near the kitchen. Actually, the two swinging doors leading to and from the kitchen were separated by a space where a small table had been precariously positioned. Every time a waiter came and went, a door would smack against the back of our chairs, shaking our table.


I tried not to show my irritation, especially since more suitable tables were readily available, but I didn’t want to make waves and said nothing. Frankly, I was too young and unsophisticated to realize I had every right to request another table.


I held my tongue at the slow service. My steak arrived so rare that blood squirted from it when cut. Mrs. Chatterbox’s chicken dish looked equally unappetizing but you’d never have thought it from her bright expression. She hung on my every word and looked at me like I was Warren Beatty. I knew Dad wouldn’t have said anything, would never have asked for a different table.


The future Mrs. Chatterbox (an Army brat) had grown up in Europe and her family regularly dined out. She was far more worldly than me. Later, she’d admit to wondering why I hadn’t requested to be seated elsewhere, but I was new to dining in venues that didn’t include TV trays.


Eventually, I decided that being passive was not going to provide the future I imagined, so I altered course and took a page from Mom’s Big Book of Belligerency. I became assertive, argumentative and obnoxious. This caused different problems, until I learned how to appropriate the correct behavior to suit the situation. Today, most people describe me as easy-going with a good sense of humor, but when the occasion requires it I can be firm. I’m not a push-over; in fact, I can be a fierce negotiator. I admit to having a thin skin at times, but I don’t let too many things bother me.




How about you? Are you too passive? Aggressive? Do people take advantage of you? Is it hard to stand up for yourself?




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It depends on the situation, but I'm probably in the middle, leaning a little towards aggressive. Crappy place to seat you. Why do they even have tables near the kitchen entrance anyway?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on September 21, 2015
I call myself "Mrs Buttinski" and Russell will usually just sit back and let me address things that are wrong. He says I am much more diplomatic. But back when we were teenagers? I doubt any of us would have asked for a better table. Obviously you and Mrs C have figured it out! Have a great day!
By: Kathe W. on September 21, 2015
I guess I'm on the more passive side. No matter how offensive or unfair someone is being to me, I tend to bite my tongue rather than reciprocate. It takes a lot to get me riled, but I can be a real tiger ... a very soft-spoken articulate tiger with the "deadly finger" defense of someone I love. (I reckon I must not think too much of myself...)
By: Susan Swiderski on September 21, 2015
I do not like to make waves, but I will ask for a better table. THis summer I went out to dinner with my son and service was very slow while other tables were getting prompt service. After seeing several tables get their meal when they ordered well after us, I just got up and told the head dude we were leaving, and thank you very much. "Wait, your food will be right out" I told him "Thank you, we weren't hungry anymore."
By: cranky on September 21, 2015
This doesn't answer your question, but your post reminded me of this:Sometime around 1970, Bud & I were driving down Pacific Coast Highway. We passed a very expensive, very exclusive restaurant &, on a whim, decided to have a late lunch there. The maître d’ greeted us & asked if we had a reservation. We told him we didn’t & he said he’d see what he could do. He turned & studied the nearly empty dining area for several moments. He then turned back to us & asked, with a straight face, “Would you prefer a round table or a square one?”
By: fishducky on September 21, 2015
While I'd like to say I'd say something given this situation, I don't think I would either. Luckily Mom was always the one to throw down!!
By: Hey Monkey Butt on September 21, 2015
Like you, when I was younger I was very inexperienced with the real world. I had boyfriends who cheated on me, I had teachers who ignored me...but I think I have brought some balance to that situation. I am always polite but can speak my peace if I have to.
By: Tabor on September 21, 2015
As you have learned, there is a time to stand-up and a time to take a seat. With my wife to tell me which one to do, I get by relatively unscathed most of the time. She says that I do not follow instructions very well, though. Sigh.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on September 21, 2015
I don't think that people take advantage of me so much per se as that I've been unable to find any friends that can afford to do any of the things I like. I know so many unemployed poor people it's ridiculous.
By: Michael Offutt on September 21, 2015
i'm pretty good at standing firm when i need to. quite good. :)
By: TexWisGirl on September 21, 2015
I am usually quite passive unless someone is abusing my family or pets. Then look out.
By: Arkansas Patti on September 21, 2015
I can be passive if I know that a disagreement will upset someone I love. I'm aggressive when it's required. I do not care for passive/aggressive people. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on September 21, 2015
Like you, i tend to not let much get to me in many situations, and people do take advantage sometimes, but i can also firmly put my foot down when i've had enough.
By: mimi on September 21, 2015
One Halloween, some teens soaped the car with me sitting in it. I would say that's taking advantage. I gave them the stinkeye, though!
By: Val on September 21, 2015
Your Dad sounds like a good person and reminds me of a favorite uncle(married to my mother's sister.) As for your question-I'd prefer just to ignore bad service, a bad table, etc, but have learned to apply the customer's right though I try to do it in a nice way. It was heartbreaking to read of your prom experience and it prompted a flash of anger. That is something that fortunately I have learned to manage. Back in college when a "bouncer" at a night club told my date (now my wife) that he didn't believe her ID, I blew my stack. A quick back note. I worked for a radio station in that town and had mc'd events there previously and had been there many times before with my date. The bouncer was just being a jerk. My response was to toss him onto the juke box. We got in and the owner apologized to us and gave us a good seat. Still, I should not have blown up--but that was then!
By: Tom Cochrun on September 21, 2015
I tend to be a very conciliatory person. Sometimes I wish I knew when it's the right time to be more assertive, but if I am assertive I often question myself afterwards if I was "too mean."
By: Pixel Peeper on September 21, 2015
I'm fairly laid back. I don't like to complain about things. I will ask for a better table. I will question things or ask for information or an explanation.
By: red on September 21, 2015
I know (all to well) a guy who ALWAYS asks for a different table and then insists on giving the person who reseats him cash. He is well known for being an obnoxious boor. Not to say you shouldn't request a different table if you get a bad one.
By: Catalyst on September 21, 2015
It depends... I think I am passive until a situation calls for it... if you saw the news last week about the shooting at the small university in MS... that's where I work... once the news was getting out about a lock-down and active shooter, I went into aggressive mode... made sure my colleagues were safe... went throughout the building making sure that profs and classrooms were aware of what was happening... even directing students to our office suite for safety... so it depends... ~shoes~
By: redshoes51 on September 21, 2015
It is so important to be able to bend, like the willow tree and the storm. Yet one still has to have roots that keep you where you want to be!
By: John on September 22, 2015
Somewhere in between. I enjoyed this story! :)
By: Michael Manning on September 22, 2015
I guess it depends on who you ask. I have been called a pushover, stubborn, a doormat, opinionated, spacey... I guess it just depends on how much it means to me, perhaps? If I don't care, I truly just see what happens. If I do, I can nearly show fangs and claws to get my way. BUT, name calling aside, I do try to see it from other folks point of view. Not always successfully, mind you, but I do make an effort... Cat
By: Cat on September 22, 2015
When I was younger I was very aggressive. Born and raised in Jersey I knew nothing less. After I met Rich he "polished" me up and I got a little softer over the years!! You need to be good balance and people will usually respect you.
By: Bouncin Barb on September 22, 2015
I'm a ruthless warrior when the opportunity calls for it. And I'm proud of that. But I used to be meek and passive. Does that restaurant still exist, Stephen? I seem to recall going there, maybe 10-15 years ago.
By: Robyn Engel on September 22, 2015
It sounds, to me at least, like your parents were a good match. He gave her the calm, let it go approach and she stuck up for him when he didn't. I am in the middle I think although I know that if we have a difficult client, they give them to me. I have no problem putting people in their place. I will go out of my way to be nice but I won't stand for crap. The funny things is, when i had neighbours on my street park too close to my driveway or in front of it, i would knock on their doors, tell them to please not park there. If they didn't listen I called to have them ticketed. They continued to do it! I met my hubby who is the opposite of passive-he has no problems in confrontations and actually, I think, relishes them. My hubby told them once not to park there and ever since then, they listen! he has told neighbours to go you know off and now they talk to him and ask how he is doing. I tried to be nice but firm and i am the bitch
By: Birgit on September 23, 2015
I'm fairly passive but I can stand my ground when necessary. As a supervisor for ma bell, I gave people the benefit of the doubt until they took advantage of me or one of their coworkers. Then I could be unpleasant.
By: Rick Watson on September 24, 2015
I was raised to be polite and accommodating. Then I married a guy who was very brash. When we took on a huge volunteer project together we needed both of our approaches, and we rubbed off on one another. He's usually more considerate now, and while I don't go looking for conflict I'm much more able to stand my ground.
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on September 25, 2015
Today... my tolerance for nonsense is little to none. As a teen, I was less aggressive with one exception... when I played hockey.
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 25, 2015

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