Sometimes we just don’t give our people enough credit, and those are most probably the times when it is really about not trusting ourselves. Maybe it feels safer to take care of it ourselves, rather than risk the vulnerability of rejection or judgement. Here’s a story about a a time when I opted for vulnerability instead of safety.
We were driving home from a funeral, my Dad and I. Each time someone in Pennsylvania has a noteworthy life event, some branch of the New England contingent rallies to represent. It was my turn. I actually was grateful for the road trip … I miss driving to Grandma’s house for all the things it evokes. Before iPods and on-board video screens, the car was the place where you had to just BE with each other. And at the end of the trip, there would always be sticky buns and unconditional love. And now that Dad is getting older, we actually get to stop for a pee break, so there’s that.
I waited until I was driving, so I had his good ear. I took a deep breath. I said “Dad, I need to talk about some stuff for a few minutes, and it is really hard to get out. So I’m going to ask you to just listen until I am done.” I’ve learned a lot about humility from my Dad. He brought that out in this moment and created a space in between us where any words were allowed. So I spilled my words, about my affair, the problems in my marriage, the things I loved so dearly about my marriage, the shame I felt about jeopardizing my family’s well being, how great it felt to be in love, the joy of discovering that, for me, there might be another way of living, and the shock of discovering this. He waited patiently until I was done. (I’m lousy at doing that.) And then when he was sure I had sufficiently emptied, he took his turn.
He had both no room for shame, and a genuine understanding that there was no avoiding it. He talked about regret. He talked about his understanding of human nature. He offered me unconditional acceptance for my mistakes, my coming out, my struggles. He stated some truths about his understanding of the world at large, relationships in general, and my situation specifically that were so wise, and yet guarded that I never would have gotten these nuggets without first exposing myself. He’d have assumed I could take care of myself on my own.
That’s the positive part of this experience for me… that I asked to be heard, and in response got to hear exactly what I was struggling to discover on my own. If I’d kept my struggles to myself, I’d have missed the opportunity for his insights. And they were beautiful insights, based on years of making his own journey full of mistakes and rewards, regrets and appreciations. What strikes me as the most beautiful, and yet somehow sad, part of our conversation that day was the communion I felt with him.
See, I’m kind of a know-it-all, and as I mentioned, Dad has this non-intrusive humility that means that he listens patiently to my life stories, braggings, and justifications, but he rarely interjects his belief system directly. Here I was struggling with accepting my own newly discovered definitions for love, family, trust and ethical behavior, only to find out that I was fairly well in alignment with what he would have told me directly years ago if I’d only asked.
I think about that a lot as my children enter the age where they have to manifest their own life paths and relationships. Do I stand back and let them discover their own philosophies? Do I suggest methodologies that work for me? Do I simply lead by example, not prescribing MY method, but showing what it looks like to live authentic to ME, so that they can grant themselves permission to do the same for themselves. What I do know, is that it is about connection. It is not good enough to just offer some DNA, food and shelter and let our children grow as they will. Yet it is also not about molding them into some preconceived notion of what is “right.” It is about listening, seeing, connecting, helping with the weeding when necessary, but supporting them in their growth.
It’s about acceptance, and forgiveness, and love. It’s about knowing its a journey, and for me, the journey is easier with connections. And real connections, that takes vulnerability.