The interesting thing about the "Phil buys a house" arc is that while he's having "fun" with the kids screaming about how much everything costs, Georgia's at the Pattermanse talking about how real estate prices have risen since Elly and John bought their place. Lynn doesn't realize it but she's demonstrating a common mental shortcoming a lot of people have: the inability to remember that when we're complaining about inflation making everything we want to buy cost more that things we don't buy very often also cost more.
Given who Elly is, the constant rediscovery (owing to her tendency to think that she has nothing to learn from her mistakes and misunderstandings and thus certainly nothing to apologize for) that candy, chips, fast food and pop cost the same relative amount that they did when she was a kid instead of the same absolute amount is a rude and unfair shock because she doesn't feel like spending a buck on a Goo-bar or two fifty for a Gruntburg.
As has been noted before, Lynn has been transfixed by the notion that she has too many characters running around her strip because her idol was really into minimalism. Not only did this mean that the Nichols family and Connie's stepdaughters had to take a hike, it meant that Lynn had decided Phil was redundant not only because Alan was being unreasonable about their mother, she already had Mike and Elizabeth around to do the sibling rivalry routine anyway so, aside from a story arc about having to divide their parents' belongings after they'd passed, he wasn't needed.
The reason that I mention this is that after the set piece in which the Pattersons look through a photo album, most of this summer and pretty much the early part of autumn are taken up by Georgia prevailing upon Phil to take the next step in becoming a member of Geezer Nation: buying a house instead of renting. We had the standard ranting from him about the simple life he claimed to be giving up and the standard Acting Like A Guy and bumming a pick-up truck off of some jerk because he wanted to go broke and get into a spat he didn't need saving money because of the guy's love of fool's economies and so on and so forth. The next time he figures in the story is a few years after April was born dealing with some old duffer so scared of mythic gangs of the wrong sort swooping down from that neighbourhood to ransack his balloon-frame castle that he kept a series of stupid dogs tied outside all night long to go crazy and bark moronically at everything that moves. After that, he's stated to live five hours away so that Elly can behave as if a drive that long is akin to undergoing the Bataan Death March. By the time Anthony is giving Howard Erk the purple nurple, people would be forgiven for assuming that Elly is an only child....which, I should think, is another example of wish fulfillment on Lynn's part.
As we know, Phil seems to have something of an exaggerated fear of failing at life because he's naive and silly enough to think that since his parents are normal and he's normal, it necessarily follows that Elly herself is normal and typical and average and not spiraling off into her vortex of stupidity and craziness. This leads him to make a lot of questionable life choices based on his not understanding how life really works.
First off, he looked at his big sis being miserable as a spouse and, since his married friends no longer had time for his feckless carousing, assumed sight unseen that marriage made people miserable. Only exposure to other married people after his own wedding opened his eyes to the truth that Elly was born a miserable misfit who could only see bad things. This probably caused him to regret dragging his feet.
Next, there is his mistaken belief that Elly and John are normal parents with normal children. Since most of the married couples with kids he knew didn't let him intrude on their lives because his carefree lifestyle was a damned disruptive nuisance, he doesn't know that Elly and John are terrible parents to weird kids. While he sees a lot of examples of normality, only his having kids of his own would have taught him what a failure his sis is.
This leads us to my subject: his fear of holding down a mortgage because he thinks it means becoming frustrated and old like his parents and sister. Phil isn't aware enough of his family politics to realize that most of why his folks are anxious and morose is that they have to worry about pulling a crazy woman out of a hole so he thinks that home ownership is why they're upset. If Phil were to finally realize that Elly is The Amazing Colossal Human Clusterfuck, he'd ruefully smile as he looks back at a life of limiting himself for a dumb reason. As it stands, he wished that he could have enjoyed the cute little home he did get but between the crazy old man with the barking dog of scaring off the Avenging Black Hordes and expropriation so that his cute neighbourhood could be turned into parking for Wal-Mart and The Gap, he's sort of screwed. Now, he enjoys a condo in Westmount with Georgia vaguely wondering what would have happened had he had a normal sperm count.
As we know, it's pretty close to April's twenty-fifth birthday. In three and a half years, we'll see Elly panic and fret because she'll be tied down to the house forever and so on and so forth. What we'll also see is her standing around looking like a gaffed trout because Connie said something that made as much sense to her as Annie's fears that she'd be displaced as best friend did when the woman envied her the chance to be needed again. As we see in this passage from her Liography:
Suddenly, the house was very quiet. Lawrence was 15 now, and busy after school with all his friends and school activities. Connie's work no longer seemed enough to fulfill her. She found herself longing for another child, one fathered by the true love she had found so late. But month after month, her body disappointed her.
It was the bitterest of ironies when Elly announced, with much lamenting, that she was unexpectedly pregnant again.
Connie desperately wanted to have 'proof' of her love for Greg only to face the heartache of infertility and thus had little patience for Elly's wailing about having the child she wanted. This baffled Elly because it didn't make sense that someone might actually envy her or see her as having something they might want.
It's like how she never really understood or heard of another drama: Phil and Georgia's four year battle with the infertility that Connie sees as a betrayal by her body. We were far too busy watching Mike blunder his way into alienating Martha to see something really important: Phil and Georgia's falied attempt at getting in the family way and how they handled it. As HIS Liography indicates:
The second problem had no solution, and it took Phil and Georgia some time to accept it. After four years of marriage and some acutely embarrassing medical moments, they knew they would have no children of their own. There were times when this depressed them. Other times, Phil thought it might be just as well. He wasn't at all certain he had what it took to be a good father.
They talked of adopting, but decided against it. While both would have loved children of their own, there was also pleasure in coming home after a hectic day to a peaceful house. There were advantages, too, in being able to focus totally on their careers. They both worked with children every day; their interest in young people could be channelled into more dedicated efforts to help those kids lead better, richer lives.
When that wasn't quite enough to ease the hurt, they decided to "adopt" two children and their families through an international aid organization. Each month they contributed the amount they had planned to put into an education fund for their own children. It was humbling to find that such a meagre amount was enough to not only support the two families, but to provide a well for safe drinking water for their whole village. There was comfort in knowing that out of their disappointment had come some real good.
Phil might have tried to rationalize away a lot of heartache by telling himself that he was too much of a kid himself to be a dad and that he's doing more good for more kids this way, he and Georgia are pretty much on the same page with Connie in secretly envying Elly's having her "superfluous" child. Not, of course, that Elly is really aware of this or could sympathize if she were. As I said the last time I talked about this, the problem is that Elly is too focused on her own problems and too lacking in real curiosity to see what's going on around her. Were we able to see into the lives of the 2016 Pattersons, I should think that as she sits at the kitchen table with Connie and doesn't realize how much complaining about how April's not calling as often as she'd like still hurts, it's equally likely that she makes pious noise about how Phil never even tried to give her a niece or nephew because she's the same sort of idiot Mike is and thinks that they're morally inferior because they're infertile.
As you probably don't know, the current pointless and sad exercise in tedium that we call this week's Funky Winkerbean is all about how Crazy Harry is confused and outraged that iTunes told him that if he loved Robert Plant, he'd also like Emmylou Harris. While he's willing to concede that if you had to think about it, maybe they'd be connected but not officially because back in 1978, they were in different genres. Factor in the fact that when the title character looks in the mirror, he can't help but see the dime-store Archie Andrews he started out as, we end up dealing with the irritating reality that is a bunch of middle-aged guys so stuck in the past that they don't realize that they're seen as having aged before their time. It might seem ironic that denying that one has aged ages you but to paraphrase P J O'Rourke, life is full of irony if you're stupid.
The reason that I mention this is that the very interesting thing about the only real time that Phil and Mrs Baird actually encounter one another is that he refers to her as being that old fogy from next door. While the strip in which this is revealed has as its premise the fact that children are evil embarrassments who live to make their elders look foolish because the alternative is watching your damned mouth in front of your kids because they're going to repeat things because they don't know better, the thing that interests me is that, as I've said, Phil seems to be suffering from the same sort of mental peculiarity that defines the idiots from Funky Winkerbean.
After all, what is this annoying tendency of his to call marriage 'going down in flames' and acting as if he's being asked to kill what makes him a friendly, happy person but a denial of the fact that he isn't a kid any longer? He varies only in degree and not in kind from Ted and his living his life so as to emulate a hero from his youth; fortunately, he's saved from having to live in the past by his sensible spouse and doesn't end up becoming a ridiculous idiot like Ted who wound up the subject of Liz Patterson's mild disgust. This saves him from being a deluded older fellow who, in the quest to cling to the past, ages himself. While this might be a horrible fate for Funky and the gang, they're at least better off that those in the Patterverse who think of themselves as being older than they really are.
The interesting thing about Phil's idiotic decision to try to 'encourage' Mike by making him listen to one of the masters of the form is, oddly enough, its complete and utter tone deafness. It's not enough that he doesn't see himself as being the angry loudmouth who wants to steal Michael's childhood away from him forever and deny him any chance to laugh and feel good about himself without his failure to realize what Marsalis must mean to a child.
To explain this blind spot, let's remind ourselves of the end of the film "A Boy Named Charlie Brown." As we all know, the Round-Headed Kid bobbles the spelling of the word "beagle" and ends up coming in second place in the State spelling bee and he feels as if the world has come to an end because he's humiliated himself forever and ever. Someone who understood kids would nod his or her head, realize that that's the deal with a rather gloomy child who takes everything too seriously and accept it. Phil, I should think, would be totally confused by this. After all, the boy came in second place and that's pretty darned good, right? What kind of messed up world does this kid live in where coming in second mean he's freaking radioactive? And why do parents keep showing up complaining about how he's riding their kids too hard and making them feel bad about themselves?
This is because we're dealing with the same man who doesn't want his own childhood to matter all that much. From his angry refusal to validate the fact that Elly felt as if she could never catch up to him and that she was always kept on a tighter reign just because she was a girl and his sullen refusal to admit that perhaps his cruel stunt of charging his chums to see her change because no one would do anything about it mattered to his eventual belief that she doesn't need any victories because time doesn't exist, we're looking at a man who needs to believe that children are resilient because if they are not, his suspicion that he'd probably have made a terrible father would be more than confirmed. Simply put, he'd be John Patterson with a scrub bush mustache and a need to blame everyone else but himself for every time he felt bad. Shit. He's what you'd get if Shaggy were to become Anthony's dialogue coach.
Another problem with Elly is that she doesn't realize that she herself is a problem inherent in the system. As we'll see during the length of the "Phil's engagement" arc, she has no idea that her refusal to listen to Phil's fears that he's condemning himself and Georgia to a mistake they can't get out of serve to amplify said fears any more than she can admit to herself that her non-stop whining about how unfulfilling and miserable her married life with kids is might be what put the idea in his head in the first place. Since Phil's married friends are too busy living their lives to set him straight, the poor fool went to the only person who had the time to share her teachings and it made his life worse. That being said, we could still be living in a world where he assumes that his and Georgia's relatively happy life is an anomaly because he had the worst teacher ever.
The reason that I say this is that he still has yet to realize even now that he's in his early sixties that Elly has never been what you'd call an education mother. He doesn't have the advantage of reading the strip so he has no idea that most of her life has been spent shooing the children away because she can't think straight when she has to keep track of what other people happen to be doing and can't admit that children might actually be interested in what she's doing let alone admitting that they'd like to be part of the process. As I've said before, the poor dope doesn't seem to realize that Elly learned the wrong lesson from watching their parents parent. I can see a world in which Jim and Marian actually did try to include the kids in the process when they had the time and I can see Phil remembering that and assuming that that's what Elly is doing. Unlike him, I can see a world in which Elly came to the conclusion "Don't let children get underfoot or you'll never get anything done. Mom shooed us away and we turned out great so she must know what she's doing."
What this means is that he doesn't realize that there's never been a moment wherein Elly could communicate with her kids that she couldn't somehow or other dodge in the unswerving belief that doing so is the best thing for all concerned. On the rare occasions she does try, the kids are so unused to the idea of being able to talk to her, they don't know what to do.
The interesting thing about Connie's departure is that it looks to all the world as if it's meant to be a temporary obstacle to Elly's having someone with whom she can agree that children are ungrateful parasites who steal time and attention because CHAOS and that their malicious, self-absorbed neglect and solipsism is actually the best way to raise their ill-used offsprings and small ones. It might have looked as if we were dealing with a real-world situation in which life was a fluid thing in which people's lives take different trajectories but Lynn made it obvious that Connie's destiny is to be Elly's sidekick and fellow failure as a mother, wife and human being. The question that faces us is wondering why it is that she had to leave and why it was that it took her so long to return.
The answer seems to be that it was impressed upon Lynn that she couldn't have the soap operatic love triangle between Phil, Georgia and Connie that her day-time television obsessed brain makes her see as being the most desirable means in which to have people interact. Since she couldn't have the drama, it made sense to put Connie on a bus until such time as Alan stopped telling his crazy lie about how Joan was the one dragging her feet about marriage and got married already. Simply put, we have to endure cheap theatrics about how Lawrence has to adjust to living in a whirlwind so that his idiot creator can pout about people having no sense of reality.
As I once said long ago, the reason Lynn wants old flames to not flicker out and die is because she is mildly envious of relationships that last. This yearning for a world in which the flame doesn't gutter out and die is, as I said, why even unto the last days, Connie still played "what if" when thinking about Doctor Ted.
The reason that I mention this is that Lynn needs to assume that some sort of lingering attraction to an old flame is why Alan wouldn't hurry up and marry Joan already. We are, as we all know, dealing with someone who assumes that because she wanted to rush down the aisle with the first thing with a pulse, the same thing must be true of all women everywhere. This means that any sort of reality that involved Joan being the one slowing down the wedding machine could not be real to her. Since Joan 'clearly' wanted to get married as soon as possible, Alan must be to blame for the delay. Thus do we have Phil singing about his love for a woman he barely had time for in the real world.