June 19, 2011

SERIES - #11 I Didn't Expect: To Meet My Father After 40 Years

Father's Day is an interesting day for me.

For most of my life I had never met nor ever even seen my father (except in some old pictures my mom had).

The meeting happened one day when his family (which would be my relatives too right?) was having a family reunion in the small town my sister lived in and her husband got wind that my father would be there.
(My father lives 1500 miles away.)

I don't remember exactly what I thought or felt at that time.

Once, when I was about 21 he was supposed to come to my home town and I set myself up with expectations to meet him but he never showed.
Looking back, I think it was a good thing because I would have been disappointed expecting that he would be the father I imagined but never had.

Now here over 20 years later, I had no expectations except to see what the man whose DNA I housed, looked like.
I was not bitter.
I was not excited.
I was anticipatory. 
I was open.

It was a strange feeling, almost embarrassing, as each man that looked like there was even a remote chance he could have fathered me, I would ask my brother-in-law, "Is that my dad?"
You know how people will say that all _____ people of a race all look the same?
Well, these people all looked the same!

What do you say to the man who created you but did not even know the date or year you were born?
To the man who was never around to help pay bills or support the family?
To the man whose place was taken by other well-meaning fathers who would take me under their wing and for a night be my "father" for the Father-Daughter-Dinner-Date?
To the man who had no branch on the family tree and how humiliating it was as a class project to be reminded of that?

You don't say anything to that man.

You address the man as a stranger you are meeting for the first time because that is what he is.

I know I may sound resentful.
But I am not.
There were times of that emotion growing up I'm sure, as reminders came up and I had to vocalize what I ignored for the most part.
"That I did not know who my dad was."
"That I didn't have a dad." 
But truth be told I did not know anything different, so mostly I was just stating facts not being upset.

We tried at establishing some sort of relationship as I know that all people make mistakes.
Everyone can change so I was open to accepting him into my life.

But after a year or two he, in my opinion had not learned to treat women with the respect that I believe a woman should be treated with.
So I no longer have contact with him.
I do not feel angry that nothing became of it.
Now that I am a parent, I count it as his loss.
That is sad to me, but I recognize we all have our agency to choose how we will live our lives.

So Father's Day does not mean anything to me regarding my father but it is still very meaningful to me.

I love to tell men (including my son) who are lovinginly active in their childrens lives how special they are.

And what a blessing they are not only to that child but to the world!

So to all you responsibly present fathers out there-HAPPY FATHER"S DAY!

"It is much easier to become a father than to be one." 
~Kent Nerburn, Letters to My Son: Reflections on Becoming a Man, 1994


June 13, 2011

The Cracker Shopper - A Parenting Parable

This post is an excerpt from an article I wrote for my school's newsletter.

Our school provides wheat crackers and milk everyday (along with water and an additional item) for the children's snack.  The staff takes turns being "The Cracker Shopper".

The first year I worked at the school and my rotation came around I closely watched the pantry supply, taking into consideration when the best time would be to shop.  I still had a son at home that was very involved in varying activities as well as the community work that I myself was doing, so timing was everything.  Because there is only one grocery chain that carries the crackers I carefully figured that destination in my errand loop.

One morning as I was preparing the snack, shortly after I had mentally made my date for the "shopping excursion", I was surprised and confused to see the pantry shelves already stocked with crackers.  Many thoughts crossed my mind as I wondered: if it was not my month to shop after all, had the cracker fairy come overnight or had I in my pre-Alzheimer's  state already done it and forgotten?  Those with more wisdom and years at the school suggested that someone had done it just to be helpful and nice.  Adding, that someone may have thought I had forgotten.  (Had I already started my absent-minded reputation?)

Trying to make myself feel better, that is what I told myself, but the truth was I still had on my goody-two-shoes-has-it-perfectly-all-together facade, trying to impress my new coworkers, so my "condition" was still under wraps.  But something happened to me that day that has stayed with me.

I became aware that I felt as though someone had not trusted in my ability to accomplish the task given me.  That brought up a couple of things for me.  It made me question my own ability and the thought-out decisions I had carefully made.  It left me wondering if I had unknowingly done something wrong. 

When I determined I hadn't, it made me resentful in a way.  I knew what was going on, and I had a plan.  I could and would rise to the occasion.   There would not be a shortage of crackers, but it appeared that because it was not the way someone else would have done it, it wasn't the "correct" way.  

The sensitive, vulnerable side of me wanted to throw my hands up crying, "Then maybe you should just do it."  The defensive, ego-wounded side of me wanted to throw something and say, "Then you just do it!"

As uncomfortable as it was, it made me think about times I had unknowingly sent that 
message to my own children by "correcting" what they did, or questioning their 'technique'.  Since I am older and have more experience I must know the best way.  I left no room for them to use their reasoning abilities, their creativity, or their opportunity to maybe learn from failure.  (It would have been uncomfortable and inconvenient for someone to have had to make a cracker run for me had I really forgotten, but I guarantee it would never happen again after that).

How often had I sent the message to my children that I did not trust their judgment?  If this is what they were repeatedly hearing from me, how could I expect them to trust themselves; their own judgment?  What would happen if and when I was not around to correct or worse, "think for them"?  Had I unintentionally discouraged them from being confident, self-accepting and willing to weigh out and try new things?

To some degree I am sure I did, being the inexperienced parent that I was.  But it is never too late to learn and to change ways.  (Do you ever notice how the patterns/behaviors you have with your children often overflow into other relationships as well?)  Everyone can benefit from change, even adults.

Be not dismayed.  This is not to provide guilt (although I can if you really want), it is to hopefully help you realize some changes that can be made sooner rather than later.  I know (after numerous therapy sessions) that that accommodating shopper way back when was truly trying to be helpful (as I hope my children will someday realize too).  And she was in more ways than one.  For that I will always be grateful! 


June 2, 2011

Part II She Wrapped Her Arms Around Who She Was And Embraced It

In my last post I focused on my physical self (because I had a picture) and learning to embrace her, it ,me.
As I get older my looks are a little harder to take but not nearly as hard as embracing  the emotional/spiritual self was.

SHE was a lot more painful to look at.
Imagine the most physically unhealthy person you can envision and that is pretty much what my emotional self "looked" like.
Only in a heart/soul/spirit kind-of-way.

Part of "who she was" had become dictated over her lifetime by:
home environment,
family structure (or lack of),
emotional trauma,
and how many "tools-of-life" I was given.

That in essence meant that by the time I had become an independent adult at the age of 18 years that I had a "baggage" collection substantial enough to provide for all my neighbors to travel the world.

Translation: Lots of issues!!

These included:
control issues,
trust issues,
unhealthy boundaries,
low self esteem,
fear of abandonment ,
and that's not all....!

These had all become part of making up who I was.
And as much as I wanted to not start out dragging a bunch of tattered baggage around in my life and I yearned for a clean slate, it was already a part of me.
It was who I was.

Over the years (many, many years), I have been able to work through several of these adversities, sometimes not erasing them completely,
but learning how to better handle my reactions when certain situations come up.

I can honestly say that I can wrap my arms around exactly who I am and embrace me.
(That doesn't mean that it's always pretty, just accepting)

Because of many of my experiences, I have greater insight and empathy.
I can then use these traits to encourage and uplift those who may be going through similar trials.
For this I am grateful.

One of the many lessons I have learned is that I am all I got,
And embracing me provides a safe, healthy place for me to learn about love and acceptance.

Baggage gets a bad wrap doesn't it?
But some of our most valuable possessions when we travel, are those we want to "carry-on" with us.

"Oh, if only each of us could embrace who we are."~Reyna
"What he had yearned to embrace was not the flesh but a downy spirit, a spark, the impalpable angel that inhabits the flesh."  ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939, translated from French by Lewis Galantière


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