Talk about pain. To introspect and not like what you see…and be faced with emotional open-heart surgery…exhausting. And what if it doesn’t work? Or what if the damage done to others is real? The wounding we do to those we love becomes scars that are forever there.
Perhaps common to all of us, we have an idea of what is right and wrong. We have an idea of the character traits we admire and those we don’t. We have good strong feelings about being kind to our fellow humans. We may be altruistic, or have lofty ideals.
I think of this often in relation to my own behaviour, particularly as a parent, and the kind of parent I want to be. When the kind of parent I want to be doesn’t match up with reality, I am disgusted with myself, but I don’t know where to put it, or what to do about it.
My wife says to me, “you say you’re your own harshest critic,” to say I am not. “You’re way too indulgent with yourself,” she says. “Just don’t do it anymore.”
In this case, the discussion centred around the use of profanity. I swear a lot. It is a horribly vulgar habit. And yet I can’t seem to stop. I give my children money every time I do it, and I have since they were little, as a way to at least show penance for what I am not capable of excising for whatever reason. They too, just say, “why don’t you just stop?”
“He likes the shock value.”
“We’ve got news for you Papa, it doesn’t shock us anymore.”
“It has nothing to do with you, it has to do with my feelings,” that’s what I said. And while there may be truth to it, that my feelings, all of them, are very intense, and the one that goes with anger results in profanity, it is surely no excuse. Stub my toe, drop something, leave a red sock with your whites in the wash, break something, crack my head on the ceiling—all things that have happened in the past few days and have all triggered a flurry of cussing.
The “f” bomb is the real problem. At one point when they had not yet reached 10, I felt like I couldn’t afford it anymore, and it just wasn’t working, so I stopped giving them money for it.
Now, I have a new program, which is to put the money aside for them for when they reach the age of maturity, as I don’t want my “effing and blinding” to fund a childish fad, but be there as a sum of money for when they need it—when they set out on their own. When I restarted the program, I though $1,000 each is probably what it would amount to, but getting there hasn’t taken me long at all, and now I am thinking at this rate, it is likely to be $5,000.
But the point is that swearing is really gross. It is vulgar, and it is pointed. I worked with a man who was very profane with the “f-bomb” and I remember thinking how awful it was. For once I could see it and hear what it sounded like. It disgusted me. I don’t want to be like that, yet I can’t seem to stop.
And this takes me back to parenting. My father was no role model. He was an awful parent. Belittling, bullying, destroying of the one thing that as parents it is our sacred duty to nurture and protect: the self-confidence of the child. I have spent so much time thinking about how not to be like him, how to raise my children differently, but when you swear at a child, how are you any better? I am not, and I did, and I don’t think I am capable of not doing it again.
It was easy to be a parent when the children were small. They were sweet, and smelled nice, and were little cherubic angels. Curious, innocent, and beautiful. But now I look at them as future adults and start to see what kind of people they are going to be—hope and dreams are no longer the only currency. And what do you do when they reveal traits or mannerisms that drive you nuts, or worse, are antithetical to your values, or display interests or behaviours that you wouldn’t like or tolerate in an acquaintance or a friend?
How do you control the rush of emotions that comes when someone close has ideas and says things to you, or just behaves in such a way that you don’t like as a parent? I can’t figure it out, but getting angry or swearing are certainly not the way, but that happened.
Various stresses in life are no excuse, though I am experiencing plenty right now. What stresses do is that they wipe away all the surface patina, stripping you down to the real you, the nasty you. That’s kind of how I feel about it. On top of the stress, we now have this fugue about who we really are, and how we behave towards others. And I don’t know if I can change it. It is certainly easier not to, but to remain disgusted with the self is a rough place to be. It is exhausting to do the necessary work to tear yourself down and address such fundamental issues. It would be so much easier to just pretend…
I started by apologizing. Today, I will spend several hours in the car with my SO, and I will probably get an earful. I deserve it.
Once, many years ago, when I lead my first team on a project in Africa, I really lost it. And I didn’t even see it. I was being rude, arrogant, and mean to everyone I dealt with, everyone, even strangers, and one day, my #2 gathered all of my team together and told me that my behaviour was unacceptable, and they rattled off all the ways, all the things I had done. Each one of them spoke in turn of what they had seen. My behaviour had been appalling. When they were done, I stood up and said, “I don’t want to be that person.”
I am glad that even at my worst, these people were able to stand up to me. I thanked them for their feedback. I apologised and told them the person I had been is not the person I wanted to be, and that I was very sorry. “This is my first time leading a project, and I don’t want to fail.” I got choked up. We all went out for a nice dinner. At the end of the project we all went on safari together, and one night one of the team members showed up at my hotel room door at night in nothing but panties and a negligee. She had been one of the most outspoken critics. My penance had been real and was validated by her presence.
…only a woman can forgive…
And I guess, what I am saying is that being disgusted with oneself can also be turned into something positive. If we are not matching our actions with our rhetoric, then we still have a lot to work on. It is exhausting, and it seems like the work is never finished. It would be so much easier to be a monk and dream of platitudes all day. I can’t; I’m human. But as a human, I realise my first duty is to live up to the people around me. That’s what I am here for.
Back to work!