You Do What You Can; You Sleep at Night
- 2011 Feb 22
Cat and I are now on the plane flying home. We've been in flight three hours, and have two more to go. In the clichest of forms, we have a screaming toddler sitting in the seat in front of us. Her mother is sitting in the seat directly in front of me. Apparently Mom's strategy for quieting her child is to use her seat as a rocking chair. Although that strategy has failed spectacularly for the past three hours, there's no particular reason to suppose that it might not begin working sometime in the next two.
I wanted to write real quick to address the (loving! thank you!) concern that so many of you have shown for my emotional welfare. I'm pretty tired just now, so I don't suppose I'll be anywhere near as artful in expressing this as I'd certainly prefer to be, so let me all-to-bluntly say this: that my father is such a profoundly unpleasant person doesn't hurt me.
It doesn't upset me; it doesn't phase me; it doesn't emotionally exhaust me; it doesn't enrage me. It doesn't make me insecure. It doesn't make me tense. It doesn't hurt my feelings. It doesn't make me question anything. It doesn't make me want to lash back at him. It doesn't depress me.
It doesn't do anything to me.
I'm aware of it, of course. And I'd prefer it didn't happen. But I'd like there to be world peace, too. I'd like everyone in the world to speak the same language. I wish the weather was always perfect everywhere. I'd like a whole bunch of things to be true that aren't.
I love my father. I don't try to internally deny that; a fool pretends he can eradicate that part of him that will always love and need his or her parents. But "love" is one of those words. I love my dad instinctively; I love him without reference to who he actually is; I love him because that's what children do with their parents.
I love him; but I'm not stupid. I know he doesn't love me—or perhaps does, in the same general way in which vomit is food. As I wrote in Death Be Not Stupid, in very direct and explicit terms I've been dealing with resolving my relationship with my dad since I was a kid. I'm fifty-two. How sad would it be if I still got upset by my dad being the exact same person he's always been?
Learning to understand and make true peace with the full truth of what both of my parents mean to me hasn't been some sort of hobby of mine. It's not a general interest I've had for awhile. It's not a collection of wisdom trinkets I've mined from Oprah's feel-good moments and a couple of self-help books. When I say I've spent the great portion of my life understanding my relationship with both my parents, I mean it's one of the four or five most important, consistent, long-terms things I've done with my whole life. Other people do other things with their lives and time. That's what I did with mine. I did it because I knew I'd never actually be wise or happy without doing it; I did it because I knew that if I didn't, nothing else would ever matter in my life.
I did it so I could write. All my life I wanted to write stuff that mattered, that actually meant something. How can I be clear in what I'm saying if I'm not clear in my heart? And how can I be clear in my heart and mind if I'm not very clear on what my mother and father meant to me?
I knew, early on, that if I didn't fill the great hole in my soul left by my awful parents, I'd never have anything real to say. So I didn't have children, so that I'd have time to figure that out. I didn't choose a career I'd have to tend to, so that I could figure that out. I waited to get married until I met a woman who got how absolutely essential it is for everyone to properly deal with their childhood before they even start worrying about their childhood. And then I married that woman, and that's pretty much all she and I then did with our lives together.
And that's why here on my blog I've been able to write Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and Unhappy? Reject Your Loser Parents, and the zillions of other such posts that I have. I waited to really write until I really knew the things that I felt most needed to be said.
Anyway … I'm just trying to say that, no, my father doesn't rattle me. Because I can't control him.
There are only two kinds of things that happen in the world: things you can control or influence, and things you can't. What possible good can come from worrying and fretting over things you can't in any way impact? Why spend precious energy spinning around about something you can't do anything about anyway?
If you can do something, and you should do something, then you do what you can -- and then you sleep at night. If you literally can't do anything, then you don't do anything—and then you also sleep at night.
I didn't see or talk to my dad for twenty-five or so years. But then I became a Christian, and a little space opened up for me to have a more generous attitude toward him. So I wrote him a few times, and went out to visit him. Over the course of three years I made two such visits to his house, accompanied by my wife, for a a total of about three weeks. Our last visit with him was five years ago.
Now we've gone back, for another week.
It's nothing. It doesn't hurt me. I wish my dad was an emotionally healthy person, but he's not. At this point in my life, that he's not is no skin of my nose. I've made my life. And I've done right by God relative to letting my father know that I, his only son, would help him if he asked me to. That's all I can do. So … I sleep at night. I slept great when I was at his house.
I'm no Guru Bob, or whatever. But this stuff I have down. Life's too short to allow where you've come from to determine where you end up.
Anyway, plane's landing. All this is just meant to say: I'm all right. I'm good. And the concern you've shown about that is infinitely touching to me.
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