Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sticks and Stones...But Words (I wish!)

This has been running around in my head for a few weeks now. I am trying to figure out why I am so in need of approval from my father, and why he can so easily bring me to my worst, hurt self with a careless word or two. Rare is the occasion when I have a conversation with him that doesn’t bring out an element of defensiveness in me or competitiveness in him.

My father is not a bad man. He’s got a good heart. He is generous with his resources and his time. There is not a bad intention in the things he does. But he is careless with his words. His personality personifies the label of the “absent minded professor” through is preoccupation with…well…himself. When he is making conversation with others I cringe with his lack of interest or registration of what is important to them. I cringe when I hear him go to his natural response of one-upping the other person. And I smart for days (or longer) when he says something careless that is hurtful, even though I know he loves me beyond any criticism that comes from his mouth.

It makes me ponder what happened in his background to make him this way. Perhaps he didn’t feel he got enough personal attention as a child: his missionary parents sent him away to boarding school in Nepal at five years old. He continued there through the 12th grade. He was very small in stature and late in maturing. Perhaps he was teased or bullied. Whatever it was, he is set in his patterns and I don’t expect that he will change at his age of 83. That being the case, why am I always knocked for a loop by his careless words?

I really do understand that we can’t change the way other people behave: we can only work on our responses to their behavior. I really need to work on myself in practicing this. Knowing it and living it are two different things. I’ll be turning fifty this year. Yet the careless words from my father can turn me into an upset, hurt young child. While I am all for being mistaken for a younger age, this is not the preferred way to do it. I realize that the years I have left with my father are being used up faster than I wish. I would rather be left with fond memories than emotional scars.

I also know that this is not an unusual situation to be in. Most everyone I know has this problem with at least one parent. If nothing else, I want to be different with my son. I want to practice using my words wisely so that he knows I am a soft place to fall, not a force to avoid. I want to practice being a grown up and so confident in my own value that my father's words can no longer hurt me. I want to be in a place where I experience every interaction with my father with appreciation for his presence instead of with caution and self protectiveness. I think I’ll go give him a call and try to put this into practice.

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