I am not sure if you ever grew up thinking or saying, “When I am an adult I am definitely not going to do that” or “When I am a parent I am not going to be like my parents”.
I said both.
And then I went ahead and did the exact same thing my parents did and what those adults did.
I hated that about myself. I would look in a mirror and I see someone different then who is there. I saw someone a lot thinner then the overweight person finishing off a piece of carrot cake. I saw someone who handles situations with poise and grace but in reality stumbles and crashes about, stomping on people’s feet, saying things out loud when I think they are just in my head.
I especially felt upset with myself when my disillusionment impacted people I care about very much – like my wife.
When I got married I made my wife a promise. In fact I quoted The Proclaimer’s song, “Don’t Turn Out Like Your Mother” with the last line, “and I won’t turn out like my dad”, in order to reinforce my commitment to that promise, and that promise was that I would not move her around like my dad did.
In the first two years of marriage I ended up moving my wife to three different cities and six different homes.
Even my dad didn’t do that.
I wish I could say I stopped there but here I am – twenty-five years later, and the home we are in now is the second longest place we have lived, and we have been in it for only four years.
It got worse. Having endured my fair share of lousy, rotten, self-serving bosses over the years, I was convinced that if I ever had the opportunity to have my own business that I would be the most amazing, carefree, loving boss that there ever was. Hell, I was even a Christian man so that would make me extra special.
I climbed that mountain and my wife and I leased a 24-hour restaurant. It was great and I felt that rush of having arrived.
Apparently it was the asshole me that arrived though. I was paranoid, stressed, frustrated, and overall just became the ugliest person I had ever been.
I have come to understand something quite remarkable about people over the years,which has changed my perspective on this a bit. I no longer think about these failures as failures or broken promises. It was my wife who said that she would rather a thousand messy starts. The context in which she shared that was in how to listen, how to have a conversation, how to eliminate poor communication from relationships.
That person I saw in the mirror? Turns out that is who I am. I am that skinny person. However, right now I find myself overweight and enjoying a piece of carrot cake. But, that skinny person is the person I am working towards, and if that means a thousand messy starts then so be it.
It turns out that life is messy. Those ideals that I had when I was a young adult – born out of a place of injustice, out of being wronged, duped, and bullied, were more a reflection of the pain that I was experiencing at the time. I suffered major loss having to move almost every year to a new school, often with no notice, and starting over again. It broke me. My reaction to it was to make sure that I never did ‘that’ to my family but then I did.
But I didn’t. And neither did my parents. They never made me a promise to not move around so no promise was ever broken. All they were doing was trying to figure out life and to make the best out of it.
I left home when I was sixteen and up to five years ago I hadn’t stopped moving around, not because I wanted to for the sake of moving around, but because of life circumstances. My parents have lived in the same community now for almost thirty years. The irony doesn’t escape me.
Then there are my children. I knew what type of parent I was not going to be – I had two perfect examples of that growing up. Turns out, my children also know what type of parent they are not going to be as well. But, in this case I thought ahead a bit. When my oldest daughter was around eight or so, going on twenty-one, I sat down with her as she expressed her own sense of injustice with her perception of how rough it was for her versus her siblings.
I told her that she was right.
I also told her that it wasn’t going to change.
I was going to screw up a lot more with her because the reality was that I had never been a dad before and I was just ‘winging’ it with her. We were blazing a path together and that meant it should get a lot easier with each of her younger siblings. Turns out that is what happened. Our youngest gets away with an amazing amount of stuff now as compared to her at that same age and she likes to remind us of that from time to time. Weirdly though, our youngest would vehemently speak out against that conclusion, citing many an example.
So, here I was – waiting for my wife to come out of recovery and I was holding our first child. Our daughter. I was a father. And I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing.
But I would promise her the moon and would go on to break those same promises. Not because I wanted to. Hell no. I would still give her the moon if I could. It is not about broken promises.
It never was.
I get that now.
One day, I suspect that my children will as well.