In the midst of it, you’re not always aware of its presence. In its aftermath, there is often a mess.
Our home has been swimming in a sea of it for close to 9 months now. Almost all of it brought about by Heidi and I.
I have an inexplicable need to fill voids with commitments, as if filling every gap of time with something productive is going to take me to some imaginary destination. Some place where I can finally say, “I made it.”
But I’m becoming increasingly aware I don’t know where that place is.
I came across this thought a couple weeks ago, watching Matthew McConaughey during his Oscar acceptance speech explain that he was always chasing the man he wanted to be in 10 years.
When I asked myself what I wanted to be in 10 years, the only answer I could really come up with, the only one that I really felt was, “a good husband and a good dad.”
So then why the hell am I sitting on two boards of directors, pouring countless hours into Tempe Leadership and firing on all cylinders at work like a man possessed?
It’s stress. And the scars it leaves.
* * *
We all have scars in this family.
What’s interesting is that they seem to amplify over time. Without therapy and care, the scars are like cancer.
They take root and spread; each negative effect reinforcing the previous.
For Beckett, it is the scars of his sickness.
He is hyper sensitive to his body – and every minor change is reported as a potentially catastrophic sign.
In the last couple days, he has asked: “Is it bad if you taste blood when you cough? Because I think I did.” (He didn’t.) “Is it normal for one of your adult teeth to wiggle, because I think mine is falling out.” (It’s not.)
It wasn’t until recently – two weeks ago, maybe – when he reported muscle pain (an 8 on a scale of 1-10, he said), blurry vision and dizzyness (to the point where it made me worried) that we started to notice a pattern. He would say these things, but his behavior wouldn’t convey that he felt these things.
That said, he isn’t lying. He believes them. And he worries about them.
And that is the remnant of his stress; 20 days in the hospital and rapid-onset full-body paralysis will do that to a mind I suppose.
He fears anything that can put him back in that hospital bed; that can take over his body like Guillain-Barre did.
So now it’s on us to stop the cycle.
* * *
For me, it’s the remnants of living through the economic downturn – that period between where Heidi lost her job and my previous business began its long downward spiral.
The laying employees off, then laying friends off, then worrying each day – for years – if the money was going to be there to keep the house, to feed the kids, to pay the bills. Not counting some retirement accounts, our savings had dwindled to about $300 at the lowest point.
The pressure was inescapable.
And my scar, my remnant is not much different than my son’s.
I don’t want to go back to that place.
So I fill my spare time building layers of security around me – developing deeper and deeper networks of professional connections, serving on boards, always stepping up, trying to be the one that people turn to, that they need, just so I’ll always be in demand.
* * *
I wrote those first three sections on the afternoon of the first day of a 9-day vacation which I’m about to conclude.
I checked email two or three times over those 9-days. I barely watched the news. I did just about every single thing my kids asked me to do. Watch him solve a Rubik’s Cure? Sure. Build a gingerbread house? Why not. Watch World War Z with me? Okay. (Bad idea, it gave me nightmares). Go to the park and swing and swing and swing and swing? Surely.
And in those moments, when I was just being a dad, I found an incredible sense of peace. A simple satisfaction – that this place and this moment was right, as it should be.
When I was staring down the beginning of Tempe Leadership a little less than a year ago, I wrote that I had finally found acceptance, that I had embraced people’s desire to push me into larger and larger leadership roles.
What I learned is that I can fulfill those roles, but that they come at a tremendous cost. Every hour poured into these commitments is another week that Beckett’s desire to play in a baseball league, or Brody’s desire to do gymnastics, is pushed back to account for my overloaded schedule.
And no amount of money, or “success”, can change that.
There’s years left to deal with all the stress and responsibility that comes with serving on committees and boards. And I’m sure I’ll do it again.
But with the coming conclusion of Tempe Leadership, I’m beginning the process of checking out.
The clock is ticking on the years left for my kids to be kids.
Family, work and some spirituality. That’s what I want. That’s what I need.
Me? A by the book, middle-class, American suburbanite?
I’ve become the very thing the 21-year-old me swore over Marlboros and shitty beer that I’d never become.
At 37, I’m learning (yet again) that what’s best for me is giving the people I care most about what they need: my time.
And that, friends, is the real power of love. It’ll force you to recognize what matters and change.
Or leave you, forever, with the guilt of choosing to ignore it.