Home Base (continued)

The Form and Function of Home

In part one we saw that feelings associated with home base are not necessarily the same feelings we have while in our parents’ house(s)—maybe that home feels homey, maybe not. Here we have an incredibly useful tool: the distinction between the form of home and the function home base.

If I live in the Waltons’1 house and every member of my family lovingly bids me “Goodnight, Mark-Boy!” then the form of my home (the house and the family in it) and the function of home base (accepting, sheltering, embracing, and supporting me) are in perfect harmony, even through the leanest times of the Great Depression. If, on the other hand, I live in the workhouse and my request for a second helping of gruel is met with, “Whaaat? MORE?” and I am chased, caught, and caned,2 then the form of my home (the orphanage where I and the other Dickensian waifs live) and the function of home (welcoming, feeding, protecting, and comforting me) are rather different.

The extreme contrast between The Waltons and Oliver Twist is for the sake of clearly illustrating how the relation between form and function can vary widely, and therefore how important it is to distinguish them. However, detecting the distinction is often a far more subtle proposition. This next example is about the form and function of a parent, not home per se, but I hope it will be useful, as feelings concerning home and parents can be strongly correlated.3

I was talking with a young woman who still lived with her parents. She wanted to share difficult news with her mother, and was trying to decide whether it felt safe to do so. I asked the woman how she wished her mother would react to her news. Her first thoughts on this were (paraphrased):

    —I don’t want her to be judgmental, or to try to manage it or fix me.

After she reeled off a number of familiar, unwanted responses that she had gotten from her mother on past occasions, I prompted her to describe what she did want in this instance.

    —I want her to be accepting and supportive. I want her to be calm, because I’m not calm about this, and I need her to be there for me. I want her to be strong and comforting and helpful, and… and…
    “Motherly?” I asked.
    She stopped and looked up, then smiled ironically. “Yes, motherly.”

In that moment the woman realized the distinction between the person of her mother and the experience of being cared for in a motherly way. The form mother and the function mothering do not necessarily coincide, but they can, and in this woman’s case the mother was often quite motherly. (It is important to bear in mind that a distinction is not the same as a division.)

Extending the above example, with its flexible relation between form and function, to home, we can notice that though our physical home functions more or less in providing the feelings of home base such as security and support, it is nevertheless those feelings that we crave and that sustain us. We want the function more than the form. Who would choose to live with creepy Mrs. Danvers at Manderley, or with megalomaniacal Charles Foster Kane in Xanadu, when they could live instead with warm and attentive Mr. and Mrs. Beaver in a humble dam?4 And why do we desire these feelings? It isn’t merely because they are pleasant (though most often they are), any more than the young woman wanted her mother to be strong, comforting and helpful just to be able to brag about how awesome her mother was. She wanted to feel her mother’s stabilizing strength and comfort and assistance because in nature that is what “motherly” actually means. Just so, the feelings of home base inform us that we are indeed secure and supported. We want the feelings of home because we want what home functionally provides, and we know we have it when we feel it.

In other words, the feelings of home are the indications of an experiential reality. In this very important sense, the feeling of home is more real—that is, more self-consistently the “real thing”—than any apartment or house, mansion or lean-to that we call home. Whereas our physical dwelling is variable in evoking the feelings of home to a greater or lesser degree, the feelings of home base themselves tend toward constancy; i.e. homey always feels homey. (When is the last time you felt at home by virtue of feeling unwelcome?) Mr & Mrs Beaver’s House We can rate a place, any place, according to how well it functions in helping us feel accepted, calm, comfortable, and welcome to enter and stay as long as we wish. Like a motherly mother.

In a forthcoming chapter we’ll delve into what these constituent feelings of home base are in more detail, so that we can better recognize them and distinguish them from home-in-name-only experiences. In doing so we will discover a deeper connection even than the above analogy suggests between the experience of home base and natural motherliness. Already we’ve noticed similarities: accepting, calming, comforting, there for me—these are what we want from our home. The reverse would be absurd. Imagine at the end of a busy day returning to a home that functioned to reject, irritate and agitate you, and then sometimes, without warning, relocated itself.5

What’s important is that we can now think in terms of the kinds of experiences we want from our home base as distinct from our given circumstances. In this differentiation lies freedom to choose and opportunity to create an environment that nurtures us.

  1. The Waltons (1971–1981), possibly the most heartwarming TV series ever. 

  2. This is the response, as I remember it, in the musical version, Oliver! (1968). In Dickens’ original Oliver Twist, Oliver is either threatened with a blow or actually struck (“The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle”), violently grabbed, perhaps overhears an adult prophesy that he will someday be hung by the neck, and is then locked in a dark room for a week, after which he is sold for three and a half pounds sterling. 


  4. Manderley: the mansion in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Xanadu: the palace of Charles Foster Kane in Orsen Welles’ Citizen Kane. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver’s dam-house: from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

  5. Alas, some unscrupulous landlords have been known to foster such conditions. 



There are times when personal experience keeps us from reaching the mountain top and so we let it go because the weight of it is too heavy. And sometimes the mountain top is difficult to reach with all our resources, factual and confessional, so we are just there, collectively grasping, feeling the limitations of knowledge, longing together, yearning for a way to reach that highest point. Even this yearning is a way to know.

― bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom


Go Fish in
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