Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Today I feel...

Growing up I was taught that feelings are an annoyance, a distraction, a weakness. The only feeling I was encouraged to have was anger. Being angry was often useful, especially in the battles I would face once I left the protection of my home and parents to start a family of my own.

By the time I was married with children, I had mastered two ways of being: either having no feeling or being angry. Needless to say, this was frustrating for those around me, especially for our children. But my wife, well versed in the art of feelings, and appreciative of my strengths and understanding of my shortcomings, helped our children understand that I really did care about them, that it was because I loved them that I reacted so often with anger.

Then we got divorced. At age 45 I was thrust into the roles of both mother and father during my 50% custody of our children. I was a good father. But it was the day that my son came home crying that I realized just how bad a “mother” I was.

“What's the matter? Why are you crying?”
“Steve hit me.”
“Why'd he do that?”
“'Cause I hit him with a baseball bat.”
“Why'd you do that?”
“He wouldn't give me my basketball.”

There was a tug, of wanting to take my son in my arms, wanting to comfort him, tell him everything was going to be all right. But as his father, I knew there was an important lesson to learn. I stuffed the sympathy and instead of holding him I stood up to tower over him.

“I guess THAT didn't work,” I said dry and cold.

My son's face filled with hurt, disappointment, and even hatred that I wasn't going to take care of him, make it better like his mother would. He stomped upstairs to his room and slammed the door.

I was lost. When I was married, this would be the moment that my wife would give me a knowing smile, go up to his room, knock, and go in to talk with him. But there was no one to go and help him, no one to give him what he wanted, no one to tell him how I really loved him, that I showed this through my commitment to teaching him how to survive.

“At least I didn't do what my father did,” I grumbled.

I had been 10-years-old, too. My brother had just hit me with a flying battery. I was crying on the stairs, nursing my bruise, when my father came up.

“Why are you crying?”
“Jerry hit me.”

He tilted my head and surveyed the wound.

“You'll be okay. Stop crying like a baby.”

I didn't stop, and the angrier he got, the more I cried, now more out of fear of his anger.

“Stop crying. Boys don't cry,” he barked.

The stern tone in his voice warned of a spanking. But I only cried harder, hoping my mother would hear.

He didn't spank me. Instead he went off and came back with a Polaroid camera and took a picture. I continued to cry as he scowled, impatiently waiting the 60 seconds before peeling off the picture.

“See,” he rumbled. “See how ugly you look!”

His hand and fingers wrapped over the back of my head from ear to ear. He squeezed and held me tight while he shoved the black & white photo towards my face, close enough for the chemical smell to fill my nose.


But I didn't. I squinted, more tears streamed down my cheeks as I tried to clear the blur. He kept squeezing until I was afraid he was going to crush my head.

Now, 35 years later, it was my turn to teach my son that crying never solved any problems. And I understood my father's frustration. I know he was loving me in the only way he knew how, by teaching me to be strong and independent. But my son had no mother to run to.

It was at that moment that I decided to learn how to “unstuff” my emotions.

It was not easy. It took me 12 years of hard work with the support of a whole team of men committed to my success. But I did it!

My youngest daughter was the only one still living at home. It was her senior year and college applications had been a source of many challenges and lessons for her, under the careful instruction of her father.

I was there, the day the letter came. It was from the one college she really wanted to go to. I was sitting in the kitchen when she came home from school and she found the letter on the table. She was almost too frightened to open it, but with my encouragement, she did.

When she screamed with joy and started to cry, I was crying right there with her. She jumped up and down, unable to control her excitement. My face filled with a big, honest smile, even as I kept crying.

“Congratulations,” I said, emotion filling the single word with so much more.

She jumped over and gave me a big hug and kiss.

“I love you, Dad.”

Today I feel. Today I feel love and loved. Today I feel happiness, pride, sadness, excitement, thrill, fear, worry. Today I feel sorry for my father, and his father, and all the fathers that were taught to survive by not feeling. Today, for the first day of the rest of my life, I feel.

Monday, November 11, 2013

One year from now...

One year from now will I have changed as much as I have changed over the past year? I read my notes and journals, letters to close friends and confidants from last year and I hear a voice that I remember, vaguely, like a lingering echo. Is it that I have changed, or is it more likely that I cannot remember who I was a year ago, as if my life started fresh every day, always from the same starting point, but never the same ending point.

Like the protagonist played by Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, I wake once a year each year, restarting my life from that one instant. And the year is different every time, because of the echo, the faint memory of what happened last year, making this year's thoughts and choices just enough different so that the year follows a new path. At the end of the year I sleep, and the memories fade.

One year from now will I have changed? I would think so. How much? In what way? I cannot guess. Perhaps if I write down who I am today, so that I can read it a year from now. But didn't I do that last year? Wasn't it just about a year ago that I wrote about who I would be one year later? I have a distant memory, foggy, blurred, incomplete and beyond reach. Wasn't it a writing prompt about one year from now?

By James Seamarsh, I think, if I remember correctly... JS annotation code