This I Believe

Kent - Fairfax, Virginia
Entered on April 24, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, legacy

19 March 2006

I believe in living with my humanity close to the surface.

I haven’t always believed this, nor trusted myself to be able to. When I didn’t, my work life, my friendships, and my family, and I suffered.

As I grew up, I felt my humanity wasn’t welcome. I wasn’t welcome in his life. I needed to be perfect. I needed to be perfect – not human – to please my Dad. Angry, I swore I would never be like him, would never treat anyone the way he treated me, but I grew up, married, had children. And yet I became the same crushing, angry personality he unleashed on me.

In 2001, at age 37, I found myself at the end of a rope over a deep, dark chasm. I was a parent and step-parent to children I really wasn’t prepared to parent. My wife had told me she wanted a separation and divorce, and she moved to our basement and slept on a foam pad. Anything worth having in my life was falling out or apart, and it looked as if nothing would keep it together.

During those long nights that I spent alone in the upstairs bedroom, I had a lot of time to think about things. One effect of our changing family situation meant I was primary in taking care of the kids. They were little enough then they needed a lot of parenting. We had a ritual: bath, brush teeth, then read. We talked about our day. Sometimes I cried, and we talked about our feelings. Sometimes we just were together, simply being with one another. We prayed for Mommy. We prayed for my stepson. We prayed for our family. We prayed for me. As we lay there, something happened. I realized that my little ones were just as sensitive, as thoughtful, as loving as I had been. They were different, but no less the same. My perfectionism and anger had been doing to them what had happened to me.

And something else happened, too: My heart broke. I realized that what I wanted most was the family I wasn’t going to get to keep. I realized that my own “little person” was still inside of me somewhere. Out of that realization came many changes. I learned to let go of my anger, and to begin to enjoy the time with my kids. I began to appreciate the things that had attracted me to my wife. I began to learn how to like people, and how to tell people honestly what I liked about them. I began to feel like a human again, and I began to learn to relate to people, other adults as well as my children. From out of my brokenness, my humanity came back to the surface.

I’m still on a road to recovery. Living with my humanity near the surface is not a natural state for me. Along the way, I’ve had a lot of help. I’ve spent a lot of time with marriage counselors. I’ve invested even more taking “life skills” counseling. I spent nine months taking a course in pastoral counseling, learning to listen and to be with others in pain. I learned how to be with my pain, and the pain of others. I’ve learned how to be a friend. I’ve learned how friends can help each other. I learned to let my humanity come closer to my surface.

My wife and I were able to begin communicating and repair our relationship. As well, I’ve begun to forgive and establish a good relationship with my Dad. Although we’re still not completely comfortable, we’re getting there. I hear now his missed opportunities, his regrets, and his pain. I better understand his humanity.

I think back on those dark, black days, when I was alone, when I felt no power, when I had nothing – nothing except for a tiny spark of humanity, buried deeply and almost out of reach and I think:

I do believe in living with my humanity close the surface.