A meadow on a foggy morning in Valley Forge National Park
Though it’s been a tough week, it’s been interesting.
I live in a very deep darkness, yet I do what I can to shield my child from all I find to be what is normal for me.
When my son was young, he was very physically ill and severely autistic. So much so that I thought I would have to feed and dress him for the rest of his life. My wife and I did everything we could think of and followed every procedure (however bizarre) we could find. I have no idea if any of it had an effect, but we certainly weren’t willing to just pass him off and allow what others called the inevitable to happen. We did, in what is my opinion, some very odd therapies and interventions and we did them to a degree and extent which many would find extreme. However, from that day to this, there has been such an improvement that he is now in “regular” classes and is almost completely self sufficient.
I mention this because of the darkness which remains within myself.
Asside from the struggles my child faced, there were increasing social and career pressures upon me which have led to my current issues. I had to sacrifice my progress for his benefit. In the dark days of his illness and struggles, the anxiety and stress led my wife and I do fight on the same side, but jump into different foxholes where we sometimes even shot at each other. Life is strange as I’d already had enough to deal with. The quote that “that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” is a bunch of crap. That which doesn’t kill me maims and debilitates me so that I’m left crawling on the ground, blind and debilitated. It hasn’t made me any stronger…it’s only made the rest of my journey more painful and difficult.
Yet through it all, perhaps because of it all, I’ve always striven to offer my child the best of who I am without the baggage and issues of who I am. This is a very complicated and involved subject which I can’t fully relay here. I also don’t mean to assert that I have any special knowledge, special strength or hidden truth: I’ve met far too many people who claim to know any number of things, but who have been charlatans or flat out lairs.
The bottom line is that I’ve always striven to give my child all I feel I didn’t have for myself – I want to do for others, what I felt no one did for me. My original compass for this was simply that I knew what I didn’t want and what I found painful, so I strove to give him at least what I knew I didn’t want for myself when I was younger. This perspective, this goal, made the focus of my efforts rather easy – difficult as the practice of being a parent has been.
I write this because of the week my child has had. He has had exams this week in all his classes and my own issues made me highly anxious for him: It was very tempting to project my own feelings and issues of failure (and lack of perfection) onto him.
Yet the only thing I told my child all through the week was that “the only thing mama and I expect and demand from you is best effort.” We didn’t care what his grades actually were. All we expected and demanded from him was best effort for study and taking the tests. I realize that in this world the mantra is that the only thing that counts is “winning.” However, I’ve never found that to be adequate. I’ve grown up around many “winners” and have seen a darkness within them which rivals my own: No matter how many times such people “win” it’s never enough and it’s something which ultimately consumes their soul…all to no end.
The only thing I expect and demand from my child is best effort and personal excellence. All else are details.
I told my child this every day when we were going to school, and by Wednesday he had begun to play the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” every morning while I was taking him to school. We sang and bounced around in the car so much that it swayed as we drove down the road. While at red lights, people in other cars looked at us as if we were crazy. On Friday, he felt so good about his efforts on the mid terms that he was playing the Tustin Timberlake video “Can’t stop this Feeling!” for himself on the way home. While the song was playing, he was bouncing around and waving his hands as if he was actually in the original video. As I pulled into our driveway, he told me “you know, papa…I like being happy.” This, almost as an afterthought.
This is not any commentary about my child or me. It’s not a commentary about anyone elses children or parenting styles. I’ve struggled for the better part of twenty years to work through whatever my own personal challenges are so that I can give the best of what lay within myself to the marriage and child I’ve committed to. I’m fortunate that while my spouse and child often don’t understand me or what I’ve been through, they’ve been able to appreciate all I’ve attempted to offer – as the best part of my most inner self.
I haven’t been perfect. I’ve made many mistakes and been angry and emotional with them in ways which make me feel embarrassed and defensive. But I refuse to give up and if my child is actually functional and we’ve actually shared the week that we’ve had together, then things may not be as bad as I feel them to be.
This is not an “everything is wonderful” story. I continue to feel constant, deep emotional pain which largely immobilizes me from daily functioning. I can take my child to and from school and sit with him while he studies. I can offer support and love, though I boil inside with a depth of pain which he, thankfully, can’t even fathom. But I’ve been able to do enough that his go to songs are “Happy” and “Can’t Stop This Feeling!” rather than my “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” (Smashing Pumpkins). Thankfully, his world…and my world…seem to be very different.
I’m no hero. I have no exceptional strength. My child does see my darkness seeping out of me at times and this does bother him. I can’t completely hide it or protect him from that, I can only do what I can. But I seem to have done enough that his world is much more bright and positive than mine…and for this I’m just plain grateful.
Hope my “profound bablings” make some sense.
Be Well And At Peace,