I have had a lifetime with a father who has pushed and driven me to achieve–but not one who has paused for tenderness, even though he is quite a tender person inside. I am familiar with that template myself, being my father’s daughter. I have learned to make room for almost every feeling in the world except those that indicate vulnerability. So it goes without saying that I do not have a lot of conversations that begin with, “I don’t feel well,” with my father or with anyone else.
This serves me well in many instances. Not so well in others.
I called my parents today–my father picked up the phone. “Can I speak to Mom?” I asked. “Oh yes,” he said, and paused. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine.” This is usually all the answer he needs. That’s my usual answer for my dad when I am not feeling well, not because we are distant (in fact we are quite close) but because any vulnerability leads to a very painful conversation. It bothers him when I’m feeling vulnerable because I think it makes him feel helpless, and he is not the kind of man who copes with helplessness very well at all. And…ahem, I understand this because I am quite the same. It is hard for me to pause and be tender with people, including myself.
“How are you?” he asked again.
“Fine.” I said. By now, I am beginning to wonder why he has asked the same question twice.
“I want to know,” he said (or something to that effect, because I have forgotten the exact line that he used to open me up).
“Really?” I asked. The hope of an eleven year old is beginning to well at this point.
“Oh.” I paused. “I’m physically much better, and I’m not feeling discouraged about that anymore,” I said, trying to assuage the discomfort of revealing my pain. “But these days, my post-stroke challenges are more psychological and emotional. I’m just so—ANGRY and HURT!” Anger, in my world, is MUCH better to feel than depression. Depression makes me feel helpless and overwhelmed, anger at least is cause for action.
The tone of my dad’s voice did not heighten with mine as it usually does–it remained staid and level and understanding. To my surprise, he shared his own struggles with anger and disappointment. “I used to get mad, but let it go,” he summarized. “I’m old now, and have learned.”
What? “So Dad,” I asked, “You’re saying being pissed off at these things is just a waste of energy?”
Yes, he said, that was his point. Just let it go and move on. Don’t be so angry. This, from a man who helped me learn to use my anger as fuel.
“But!” I shouted. “I HAVE to express my anger, or it festers and I either get angrier or depressed!” To be honest, these days, if I don’t use my anger to move myself forward, I don’t know what else can. I saw wisdom in his point, and and wisdom in his advice on youth and its energetic fuel (he’s in his 70’s)–he said that in his 30’s he also tried to struggle and argue and fight and felt despair and victory. It didn’t matter, he said–and he urged me to “let it go.”
My bloom of anger is extraordinary. My emotional rawness and lack of force field against the elements is disarming. For someone like me who likes to contain her emotions and retain control..well, this is an entirely discombobulating time. I feel like a child in the world, learning to navigate my emotions all over again.
And to my surprise, my father is there to help me navigate me through my sadness and anger. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.