React or Go Numb: A Dilemma of Fathers & Sons
It’s my dad’s birthday today.
My parents have been out of the country for three weeks. Obviously, I was going to call him and wish him a happy birthday.
But I had to prepare myself first.
Maybe you have rituals, too, before/while talking to one of your parents?
I have a variety.
On days when I’m not quite feeling up to the task, it involves heaps of self-distraction: chatting online, driving, surfing the internet, cleaning anything.
(Not all at the same time.)
Today, was different.
I went outside, intentionally, and sat near the pool where there was going to be zero distractions. Just beautiful trees and the salty, Ft. Lauderdale air.
I made the call.
Conversation quickly turned to the usual suspects:
How are things?
How’s your finances?
These seemingly innocuous questions have been known to unleash a torrent of fiery hell in my mid-regions.
In fact, I usually distract (i.e., numb) myself and give short, robotic answers so that I won’t go overboard and get agitated.
I wonder: how many of us, men, do the same with our fathers?
In how many of our conversations do we just hit the play button and go on auto-pilot?
How are the kids?
She’s doing fine.
Things are good.
I know my dad’s heart is in the right place, but the energy is always one of fear and worry. We’ll talk on Monday and he’ll ask me questions X, Y and Zed; then, we’ll talk on Tuesday and he’ll ask me the exact same questions.
Dad, you realize it’s only been, like, 18 hours since you asked me these questions, right? Nothing has changed since then. In fact, let’s try this–when something does change for the positive, how about I promise to let you know. OK?
But today was different.
I didn’t respond with the usual reflux shooting out of my throat.
And then I shared.
And then I listened.
And then I shared some more.
And he listened and shared, too.
Soon–lo and behold–we were having an actual conversation; not the usual, everything is fine, Dad.
I mean a real conversation.
At first, he said something that would normally have taken me to DEFCON 1 (definition: maximum readiness; all forces ready for combat; nuclear war imminent or likely).
So, maybe it was best that you left Atlanta, since you’re basically exactly where you were 12 years ago, financially.
Those be fight’n words in my vocabulary.
If you’ve seen the movie, Inside Out, Mr. Angry would normally be shoving everyone out of the way and taking command of the control panel at this provocation, fist about to pound the hot button.
To me, there are so many things wrong with this comment that it was hard to know where to begin.
Is 12 years of life really reducible to money?
I brought that up to him, and he agreed that it was just part of the whole pie.
(Do you feel any anger welling up in you as you read this? What’s the statement that makes your blood boil?)
He said, I’m not saying your time there was wasted; just that I think South Florida will be good for you. A new beginning.
I agreed. And… I didn’t explode.
I told him that you can’t just reduce life to money. To him, it’s not just about money; it’s about having one’s life work. It is true, my life wasn’t working that well in Atlanta. I had struggled to “make it”—i.e., to become financially independent and have more options. But I also grew so much there.
Then the conversation shifted.
Because I opened up. Because I didn’t react.
React or go numb?
I’m realizing there’s another option.
Follow me to get my latest posts
Thank me by sharing with your friends