Saturday, January 13, 2007

Living Up to Shame and Disappointment

“I keep having this dream about my old man…
So many things I want to say to him
But I just place a rose on his grave and talk to the wind.”

These last few months have been hard on me for a number of reasons. Some of them have been mentioned here, others have not. Some of them are obvious and easy to predict for anyone who knows the situation. Others, however, are not so clear. Unless you’re me. Or you know me really well.

One of the biggest weights I’ve been carrying around for the past few months (wow, has it already been a few months?) actually stems from what used to be a great comfort to me. According to what I personally believe, I haven’t really *lost* my dad. He died, that’s true, and he’s no longer here with me in a physical sense. But I believe he can still see me, hear me, love me from wherever he is. When I was really down, feeling hopeless or depressed or lost in an uncertain world, I used to close my eyes, huddle up with my arms around my knees, and imagine that my dad was behind me, with his arms around mine, holding me and rocking me until I felt better. Maybe it’s silly, but I always felt better.

C., a friend of mine from high school, was talking to me once a few years ago. I was telling her about J. and our relationship, and how I thought he might be the one I’d marry. I was reminded again, in that conversation, how differently (not better or worse, just different) my friends from high school know me. Upon hearing that I was getting very serious about a relationship with a guy, her first question was, “Would your dad have approved?” Those friends, they get that he’s always on my mind; they get it in a way that a lot of the friends I’ve made in college and beyond don’t. I miss him, but I could always comfort myself with the belief that he could still see and feel me, in some way.

“Are you looking down upon me? Are you proud of who I am?”

This belief I have has helped me through many moments of sadness through the years – wishing he could see me graduate from Stanford, for example, or know that I was becoming a teacher after all these years. I would say, “I wish he could see… I bet he would have been proud of me.” And I would comfort myself by saying, “He can see. And he is proud.” And others, who understood, would do the same: “Your dad is probably so proud of you, watching you become such a great person.” It was a great way to live.

But there’s a flip side to this. If I believe he sees the good things I do, if I believe he sees the things that make him proud, I have to wonder if he doesn’t see everything I do, including the things that might make him ashamed. Over these past few months, that’s been one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me – the knowledge that my dad can see everything I’ve done, all the mistakes I’ve made, all the horrible decisions and hurtful actions. What must he think of me? How much have I disappointed him? How badly have I let him down? You can’t imagine the tears I’ve shed over this.

I worked up the courage, finally, to ask my mom what she thinks he would have said, if he were still around. She said, in all honesty, that it would depend on if she talked to him first or not. “Because if I’d talked to him first,” she said, “he wouldn’t have said anything. He would have loved you and supported you no matter what.” But she admitted that if not, “he probably would have said something.” Oh, sure, she could have gone on to remind him of how many stupid decisions he and his friends had made through the years, and how they had always been forgiven for those. And certainly once I was in the hospital, he would only have thought of my welfare – he would only have worried about me, because he loved me.

“I wish I could’ve stood where you would’ve been proud
But that won’t happen now, that won’t happen now.”

I cannot help but feeling, in my low moments, that I’ve disappointed my father beyond all redemption. I cannot help but hate myself for doing what I’ve done while he could see it all. I talked to Lady M a bit about this, and she reminded me that if he could see the bad, he could also see that I had no malicious intentions, and that I regretted my decisions, and he would understand. But it’s hard to really feel that. All I feel is the disappointment and, yes, the shame I must have caused him.

And it hurts, to have let him down so completely. And I wonder if I’ll ever feel the love again, without the disappointment.


Day 13 of SaBloBoMo: It’s Happy Bunny: Life. Get One. by Jim Benton

To completely change the tone of this post (‘cause that’s part of why the monthly tags are good, remember?), I bring you the wisdom of It’s Happy Bunny. Everyone needs more It’s Happy Bunny in his or her life. Trust me on this.

This is sort of a general wisdom book, but there are three other books with more specific aims (horoscopes/astrology, love, and vice/virtues, respectively). In Life. Get One. you can learn all sorts of useful tips, such as

  • “When life gives you lemons, use them to squirt lemon juice in the eyes of your enemy.”
  • “You can’t have your cake and eat it too. But you can have your cake and eat someone else’s too, and that’s kind of better anyway.”
  • “Don’t laugh at stupid people. If you do, they might go away, and then who will we laugh at?”

You can also look forward to the fable about the bear and the jerk chicken, and the chart that combines physical appearance with intelligence to tell you about any person you might ever meet. Doesn’t this sound like a book you need on your shelf right now?


LaLa said...

Even though I have never met you, I think I can tell from reading your words that you are a decent, caring, funny, intelligent and lovely person.

I am sure your Dad is proud of you. I am so sorry for your pain.

Lady M said...

Glad to see you yesterday, and thanks so much for entertaining Q so we could have a few dances. The little dude had a fun time cha-cha-ing.

Believe that your dad knows that you're a good person and working hard on many difficult things, emotional, academic, and more.

Anonymous said...

The knowledge that someone one respects and loves observes exquisitely even one's thoughts seems, on first reflection, a great burden.

Imagine that you are granted that vision but simultaneously inhibited from intervening directly in this world. You could not remain as you are. You must grow enormously: leave behind any sense of embarrassment or prejudice; and develop a well of forgiveness and patience far deeper than any living being has.

If your father were alive, he may have intervened at the critical times and saved you from having to go through the worst of your experiences. But he is not and so he could not. Consider, then, the pain - not disappointment or shame - he must feel that he cannot more directly intervene. But consider also that he has been prepared for this and has subtler means.

Caffeinated Librarian said...

I don't have any answers on the spiritual front. Like you, even though my dad is dead, I feel like I can talk to him any time I want and that he can see and hear me.

But really, take that rationale to the extreme and it can get really creepy. Can my dad see me when I have sex? Good God, I hope not! If I really believed he could I'd probably never have sex again and wouldn't that be a shame?

I'm being a tad flip, but I am serious in a way - none of us know how things work in the afterlife and I'm sure even if we did it would be something beyond our comprehension. What I am sure of is that it is never too late to make a change in your life and, more importantly, there is nothing you could ever do to "disappointed my father beyond all redemption."

Don't worry so much about your dad - he'll always be there if you need him just as he would be if he were still alive. You keep focusing on forgiving yourself and the rest will follow just fine.

Anonymous said...

franz the mouse is eloquent in describing a beautiful scenario for your father. Our conversation concerned what he would have said if he were still here. I truly believe he is all love and forgiveness (mixed with his unique humor) where he is now. His love is not missing from your life. It is waiting behind the wall you have erected, which will begin to crumble as you forgive yourself and allow yourself to be loved again.

Amanda said...

I run the risk of sounding incredibly naive, but I think the wisdom Anne of Green Gable got from her teacher applies about tomorrow being a fresh day with no mistakes. Give yourself the forgiveness of tomorrow being a fresh start. You lose such precious time with regret. Learn. Live. Laugh. And sweet friend, write.

Lara said...

lala - thank you for your words. i feel that i am those things... sometimes. other times i feel like an absolutely horrible person. i imagine that's how most people are - i just need to get better at practicing what my friend calls self-compassion. i'm not very good at being forgiving or understanding with myself.

lady m - i had a great time too! and thank you for your comment. you're right in reminding me that dad sees even more than people here do, as far as what i'm facing these days. maybe that would make him more understanding.

franz - wow, i really never would have thought of it like that. i imagine you're right though - it would be hard to be unable to help, just watching things happen. thank you for that.

CL - you're right in that forgiving myself is the key. i often think i feel this way about my dad because i'm projecting my own disappointment and shame onto someone else. if i could forgive myself, that would be easier to do away with. (dangling preposition? what dangling preposition?) as to the creepiness, yeah, i felt that a bit during my high school graduation trip to puerta vallarta. lots of partying. lots of, "whoa, is my dad watching this? um..." awkward...

mom - yeah, so, see what i said to CL about being unable to forgive myself. tpiggy said something to me recently that helped. she said, "has anyone you loved ever disappointed you?" i said, "yes." she said, "and how do you feel about it now?" i said, "i still wish they had made different decisions, but i never loved them less for it." and she said, "how much more do you think you'll feel that for your own kids?" and i said, "much more." and she said, "that's how your dad loves you."

amanda - i suppose the key to that, though, is that we can't necessarily completely forget the mistakes of yesterday. if i just forgot about my mistakes, i wouldn't learn from them, and that would be at least as much a crime as any of the mistakes themselves. but yes, i should learn to face each new day without feeling i'm still carrying the mistakes themselves. the memories and lessons learned would be a much lighter load.