One might think that after coming to the realizations that I have written about here, that my life would seem more hopeful and more joyful on a regular basis. For the most part, I am finding this to be true. However, I don't want to give the impression that I used to struggle with things inside and out, but do not any longer. That would be far from the truth. In fact, while the general pattern is "trending upward", there is no guarantee that today or tomorrow will follow this pattern rather than the previous patterns of stumbling failures and fear that I have described as well. In fact, I think that this blog is, in some ways, one attempt for me to honestly face those failures and fears and simply call them as they are.
This is an example, all too real, of how it goes with me...
Ten days ago, I found myself fighting off negative emotions as I was starting my Thursday. I hadn't had any disagreements with Holly or the boys. I felt well (despite Holly still fighting a cold), and nothing big at work was getting me down. However, no matter how much I tried to shake it, my insides weren't peaceful. I thought maybe I was short on sleep, which I tend to let happen, but typically that alone doesn't bring these types of feelings on (it just amplifies feelings when they are present). I had a hunch about what the deal was, but unconsciously (or consciously) I was trying to ignore it.
The truth is, I was afraid. I had been watching and reading the coverage of the Penn State scandal and was finding a gnawing feeling in my gut. It seemed to remind me that the safety of my boys was in many ways, well out of my control, and I was struggling to find the "appropriate" balance of protection and freedom. This lack of control somehow made me feel, in some ways, like I wasn't enough.
I was afraid of things that could happen. I was also afraid of things that I believed should happen.
As I tried to ignore it and continue getting ready for the day, I found voices from all over the place start to gain a grip. The voices came from different times and places, but they were all familiar. Voices from the past, present, and future visited. From the past, the voice that told me I was "Fat Pat" started whispering. I haven't been "Fat Pat" on the outside for about thirty years, but in some ways I am still that twelve or thirteen year old kid who sees himself as less than (or more than, in this case) he should be. If my pants feel a bit tight, that voice can have my ear in a minute. Somehow being aware of this doesn't seem to lessen the power that this voice can have over me on a given day, especially on days where there are other voices.
The voice from the future was telling me that the things I fear are possible, if not likely. Fear, as we all know, is a crazy thing. Little things become big things and rational thinking is sometimes elusive in the face of it. Attempts to talk myself down from the ledge weren't helping and I began to think possibly something had already happened to one of them. After all, what about the troubles Eli began to have with his potty habits a year or so ago? The article I had read the day before said that change in potty habits could be a sign of sexual abuse in small children. It also told me that, statistically, one in far fewer than I wanted to believe would be the victim of abuse. Had I already missed it? What kind of a dad would miss it?
I felt helpless, but I also thought that I should do something. There was something I could do, something I had done a little bit of, but something I needed to do more. I needed to talk to my boys about this. And there was the rub. I was afraid of this, too. My boys are 11, 9, and 6. How do I talk to these guys about this without giving them more information than I "should"? The older two have reached the age where they may have more questions about sex than I am comfortable answering. I am sure they do. I am not "comfortable" answering any of their questions. I still have questions of my own. Sexuality is powerful, and taboo, and something that everyone else has figured out completely. "But not you", the voices said, like they told me when I was thirteen.
My boys, who basically share a bathroom with Holly and I, were getting ready for school. They asked for help with their hair. They couldn't find their shoes. They told me their pants didn't fit, and I wondered if maybe they were fighting their own fears and voices. As each one continued to need assistance with various aspects of their morning routine, I found myself growing short on patience with them, and therefore, (everyone say it with me) more upset and frustrated with myself. "What kind of Dad are you?", the voice of the present asked. Thankfully, recent experiences (and counseling) have helped me to be a bit more kind to myself in the face of this particular voice. I felt a small bit of comfort as I found a brief renewal of patience with all of us.
But all at once, the voice that told me I was that thirteen year old chubby kid and the voice that asked accusingly what kind of dad I am, were singing three part harmony with the voice of fear that something would happen to my kids, especially if I didn't talk to them. It doesn't seem so powerful now as I write about it, but that morning it was enough to make my insides churn, and I couldn't get a handle on it. The voices seemed too loud, my fears too real, my embarrassment and inadequacy too much. It was imploding.
Looking in the mirror as I left the bathroom, the only solace I took was that I felt I was being as honest with myself as I could, a small (or large) step forward for me.
We made it to McDonald's for the breakfast ritual and again I wasn't in a place where I could gracefully navigate the boys fighting over whose turn it was to sit by me. In fairness, I actually was able to tell them, with Clayton's help, that their fighting was more frustrating than I could handle that day, and that the time together could be spent differently (and more enjoyably) if we could get past fighting for what we thought we had to have and start trusting that our needs would be met. As I shared that with them, I wondered if they were any more capable of succeeding in that than I was.
Breakfast ended up being fun, as almost always, and I got them to school without any more incidents. As I got back in the car to drive to the office, I had a strange combination of voices still going at it in my head. The voices of hope and faith and trust and kindness that have lead me to this place were trying to stay present in the middle of those voices of fear, and shame, and guilt. They were struggling, to say the least.
I have learned the past few years that the voices of accusation and fear on the inside are pretty strong. It has only been the external voices of human beings, flesh and blood, surrounding me that have been able to bring grace and encouragement and love to me in this conversation. The songs that I am moved by and share here are given legs and meaning in my life by the folks around me. Songs have become reminders to me, when I let them, that there are other voices, good voices. These other voices are ones that I have to listen for, in order to hear them. The songs, without the continuing presence of friends and family to share in my darkness, failures, and fears (as well as joys and wonder, love and laughter) are more sentiment than power.
So I sat in my car and wished I could call Matt. Matt lives in Cambridge, UK now. We don't talk nearly as much as I want to since he moved. Too many time zones separate us.
Before driving away I grabbed my phone and opened a new "App" that I had downloaded the night before. I sat there and listened to this song, as it played for the first time, through the car speakers. (caution: lyrics)
To be continued...
(I am beginning to believe I should end every post with this line.)