Paging Dad

20 Jun

Father’s Day 2016. I got my Father’s Day text message from my son early in the morning: “Happy Father’s Day, dad. I love you very much.”  That was simply the most warming text I could get.

Robb’s text got me thinking back to what we’ve shared as a boy and his dad: our relationship, experiences, the good, the bad the ugly. The joys and and the regrets. At times I’ve thought, if not uttered, “If I could do it over . . .”.  But why? He’s married to an amazing young woman, completed law school, has a budding legal career, is a heck of a decent and fun guy, and loves me very much. Perfect.

One thing we’ve shared nearly our entire lives together has been Taekwondo. I was around often as a dad anyway and chose to share many of his interests, particularly various TV shows and movies. But we have years of being in the same rooms practicing our martial arts, learning together, growing, challenged, succeeding, failing (generally me, not him), enjoying. Robb and I literally practiced in the same class for two or so years, I think, then were active in sequential classes (separate kids & adults) and eventually he came to be an instructor for me — quite popular, too, just so you know, Robb. Great job! Thanks! 🙂 🙂 🙂

This contrasts to my own experience growing up. I never had a dad in my life. This was a rarity in the 1960’s, a Big Exception to the Big Rule, with the resulting Social Stigma. Every other kid I knew then (as far as I knew) had a dad. As much so, television — stalwart companion for me as an only child — showed me visions of what “normal” families were like, and what normal kids had: a Full Family. Siblings, particularly older brothers. A Dad. From day one, I lacked something everyone else had, and I knew it, and so did everyone else. I badly wanted Sandy from Flipper (he was blond!) or Wally Cleaver to be my older brother and either one of their dads to be mine as well. Mix and match!

I dropped out of Cub scouts. Dads abounded to help the other kids with projects. Not me. I had the absolute suckiest Pinewood Derby car imaginable. Must be me, I thought. Earning all of those badges that required dad help? Wasn’t happening.

Sports? Being an anywhere-from-chubby-to-fat-kid at any given time and with one eye blind and malformed (which, unfortunately, has become my older guy goofy-eye), I lacked certain physical capabilities. Who likes sports when they are the picked-last kid all the time? On the practice/experience side, other kids came to sports activities having had some brother, if not dad, experience and training. Not me. Back then it meant simply not being as good as all of the other kids.

Assignments at school sometimes called upon students to comment on family, which included dad, of course. Remember: 1960’s. Oddity. Different. I recall being in fourth grade and dreading, with pending tears, my turn to share. God bless Sister Mary Florita for skipping over me, airily replying to a classmate’s observation of “Chris didn’t take his turn” with “He doesn’t have to answer this one” and quickly moving on to the next topic. Whew; dodged THAT 50 cal. bullet.

At some point in middle school years, I realized that lots of dads weren’t so great; from what I heard from classmates, I didn’t want one of THOSE dads. I wanted the good kind.

My mental construct was, “I don’t have what normal kids have, and I’m not good enough to do all this stuff, either.” Here’s the thing: that kind of stuff sticks with you.  At least, it did me. Now in my fifties I realize how my earlier life events and stories have shaped me, biased me, limited and constrained me. As I hear the stories of other adults, I consider the many different ways youth years support us or handicap us, empower us or curse us, often for a lifetime. And sometimes we know it, sometimes we don’t.

I think one can’t necessarily easily “just get over it” when it comes to some stuff. They call childhood the “formative years” for a reason. What’s in our bag is in our bag. Yes, we’ve all got our crap, but some have an extra stinky, leaky bag that they’ve been dragging around a while. When you drag that big bag around long enough, you tend to pick up some residual smell, kind of like a hotel room that used to be a smoking room — clean it, paint it over, replace stuff, but the smell never really goes away. And maybe just like a smoker, you often don’t notice the smell yourself, even if others do. (A: “Me? I got over my crap!” B: “Could’ve fooled me dude. Phew!”)

Further, drag around a heavy crap-bag long enough and the load affects you. Your soul-posture and soul-gait get permanently changed; bad soul-movement patterns become ingrained, if not cause damage to the structure. If it was only as easy to get a soul-knee replacement for misuse and abuse as it is to get a physical knee replacement! And finally, in carrying that sack-o-crap you’ve used up energy, and we really only have so much energy at any given point.

As I look out at a youth Taekwondo class, I wonder what some of those kids are going through. It doesn’t matter if mom is a doctor and dad’s a teacher, there could be lots of crap there. When I meet an adult, I look at them and think that I don’t know the crap-bag they’ve carried and I don’t know the burdens they’re dragging around now. We’re all stumbling around as a gaggle of imperfect, crap-stinky, lopsided people, trying to make a good go of it.

This opens me up to a place where I intentionally want to be a positive presence; I don’t want my own ego and my own crap to get in the way of a positive interaction, never mind not cause any harm. Beyond not harming — which is a starting point, and can be quite hard to do — what might I do to be able to support, heal, empower? Bring peace?

I’ve only recently realized that I’ve carried around some vague sense of all of this somehow being my fault. So, I have to say it: It wasn’t my fault. Believe me, if you’ve been under the weight of that mindset for decades, it’s liberating. Now, as I look at others, I realize that it — whatever it is for them — is not their fault, either. I  believe that we all do the best we are able at any given moment in time. It might be wholly inadequate, it might even hurt or damage, but it’s the best we can do. Otherwise, we would do better! Duh!

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be responsibility, accountability and improvement. It does mean that on the way to responsibility and accountability, we see with different eyes and hear with different ears, ones that are connected to another organ: the heart. We observe and seek to understand with heart. I believe that once we start there, we can actually be a difference for that person, help the improvement or healing a bit, help the whole big mess of a world along.

Rather than immediately react to a stimulus (aka person), what if we take that little extra time to first let the signals from the eyes and ears take a trip to the heart (which is, after all, a little bit further away than the brain), do a lap or two — or breath or two — around it, and THEN come back up to the brain? We have a heart for a lot more reasons than just pumping blood.

What would it mean when we deal with “that kid” if we admit that we really don’t know the crap they’re dealing with and that they are doing the best they know how? What would it mean if, when we interact with a coworker, we acknowledge that we really don’t know the things they carry and that they, like us, are trying to do their best, even if it seems damn pitiful at the moment? What about our assumptions regarding our children or spouse? What if sometimes we actually ask, and then actually listen, and then let what comes in take its detour down to the heart before we respond?

Father’s Day 2016. I consider who my kids have become, how I crazy love them, and how they love me, and I think, “Maybe not too bad for a stinky, lopsided, goofy-eyed guy after all.”


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