Sunday, September 29th, 2013
We are at my in-laws summer home in Pender Harbor. It is a beautiful place and it is a beautiful day. Christine (my daughter) is busy looking after our lives and Carole is helping out, as they chat happily. Brent (my son in law) is reading beside me and Jasper (my grandson) is wanting my attention. There are books spread out and games to trip over and a general feeling of urgency between him and me. I want to sit and do nothing and Jasper wants my playfulness, loud noises and funny faces.
At a particular point of exasperation with my non-involvement, Jasper hits my arm with all the strength he could muster, trying to get my attention I suppose, and I speak sharply to him. He’s not used to sharpness from me – he gets mostly big affirmations and funny voices and silly ways to walk. This is the kind of Papa that I want to be, not the sharp and defensive kind.
My scolding scared him and the urgency of the moment provoked a gasp of tears and a startled cry. He doesn’t want me to be close to him or touch him and he moves to the protection of his father’s arms while looking at me with strange horror. A few moments pass and his hurt falls away.
He stands in front of me looking sorrowful and I say to him, “Did I hurt your feelings Jasper?” “Yes Papa, you did.” I say, “I am very sorry for hurting your feelings Jasper.” And then everything changes as he says to me, “I’m not sad anymore Papa. I happy now. Are you happy Papa?”
Wednesday, June 13th, 2012
I am the proud grandfather of a boy who is great with people as long as they love Thomas the Train and banana bread and don’t mind the repetitive “Jasper do it!” He loves to charm servers at the Cactus Club and he randomly says “Hi” to strangers and most things that move. When he sees that dumping everything on the floor makes me upset, he will say “Poppa sad?” and of course I melt.
So I thought I would write my grandson some things about friendships and relationships and if you want to listen in, you are welcome to. And as Jasper and I say when we are about to read a book, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin!”
1) The first bit of advice is that your friendships are not really about you.
Friendships are about the unanticipated and serendipitous mix of people, timing and events. They are not about your need for “me” and “my” or your noisy tantrums that interrupt the adulation of your Mom and Dad. Today you are the centre stage of everybody’s life (especially mine) but – sorry to say this – this won’t last. You will discover that friendships are what you add to someone else’s life and how you treasure what people add to yours.
2) You can be right or you can be happy but you cannot be both.
Most of us are right some of the time but mostly we are wrong much of the time. The real problem is the drive to be right all the time. This is a “righteous obsessive compulsive disorder” (I just made this up) where the obsession (thought) is to be smarter than the person you are talking with and the compulsion (behaviour) is to make sure he knows it. Doesn’t sound like a fun friendship, does it?
3) You are responsible for creating your friendships.
I don’t think I was ever taught this as a kid, or at least I learned it late. Let’s say your Mom, or your Uncle David, or maybe me, does some horrid thing that makes you venomous. Here is what I think — this rage has a lot to do with you and not as much to do with your friendship. And, I think it is your responsibility to figure out your feelings (anger in this case), settle your emotions so that something good comes from them, and work things out with the friend who tripped into your reactivity. And you have to do it most every time if you are going to be friendly with friends. And it isn’t just anger. It also has to do with your prickly hurts, the too often recurring lusts, various bits of guilt that swim out from your unconscious, and ever-present self-pity that makes you reach for another bit of chocolate. From this mix you create a friendship and for this you are responsible.
4) Your friend is worth accepting…
When your Gamma and I first met, I thought it was my job to make her into the person I wanted to be married to. More than stupid, this cost me a lot of angst and caused Carole a lot of heartache. I thought that she could be my Xerox copy but what is that really worth? I want you to know that accepting yourself and accepting others as they are without correction or complaint is a choice and a virtue. I have discovered that is how God accepts me and, by the way, how you have accepted me, too.
5) …and so are you (worth accepting).
Jasper, there is oh so much wonderful about you. I want to tell you that accepting your person and your personality is good and right. I love to hear your funny sentences, the words for your newly discovered feelings, how you surprised yourself the other day that I have an elbow like you. Shortly after you were born I read a novel (“The Help”) and in the story a marvelous mentor / hero speaks to a depressed and acquiescent little girl, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” You too are kindness, intelligence and strength — I see this in you and more.
I may never really tell you these things but I think them.
Tuesday, June 12th, 2012
This is a common complaint in marriage and other partnerships including business and family – “Just listen to me. Don’t try to solve my problems. Just be quiet and listen.”
Seems simple enough until you parse the verb a bit. What does listening mean? Different things to different people so it turns out.
Parents, especially moms, talk about active listening and passive listening with their children. Active listening is when you engage the speaker with your verbal summaries, concluding thoughts, various attempts at empathy, nods and affirmative grunts. Passive listening is when you pay attention but say not much, just vector in, eye-to-eye. I like the latter kind of listening a lot more. But there are other definitions of listening as well.
The other day in my office someone said, “I just want to be heard.” Here is what she seemed to mean:
First, listen deeply and thoroughly to my point of view.
Second, accept my point of view as true or at least more true than yours.
Third, change your thinking and behaviour in accordance with my point of view.
Fourth, advocate for my point of view that you now thoroughly endorse.
Otherwise, I will not feel heard, she seemed to be saying. In fact, she did not feel heard or understood in her family of origin (that is, her growing up family), in her marriage and also felt that her pastor minimized her thoughtfulness. She felt alone, misunderstood and antagonized by various other non-hearers.
Sometimes we can ask to be listened to when what we want is to be agreed with. Different.
Monday, February 13th, 2012
I am not a big fan of perfectionism though I am in awe of excellence. Watching the Sedins pass the puck, or my grandson laugh eating a mouthful of banana bread, or driving a Porsche 911 as fast as it should go — this is the experience of excellence.
But perfectionism robs the delight from a lovely object or a job well done. Perfectionism removes the joy from success and squashes creativity, courage and simple relationships while doing it.
You cannot find perfectionism and happiness in the soul of the same person — they are antithetical. Once a perfectionist succeeds, all he feels is relief, having dodged the bullet of failure one more time.
Perfectionism is the fear of failure. Whereas, excellence is the one who risks failure to succeed. There are excellent mothers and fathers, pastors and churches, kids and teens, students and professors (I am in the middle of marking academic papers from my teaching in Kenya last December), but none that are perfect.
Last week David (my son) and I went to hear Eric Bibb sing and play at Capilano University. An amazing concert with gorgeous sounds, and tearfully touching when Eric introduced 90 year old Leon Bibb, his mentor and beloved father. Father Bibb’s voice is not what it was perhaps but there was an even more excellent thing. Hearing the Bibbs sing with arms wrapped around each other, weeping with the friendship of many years, the music was transported. And here I was with my son. Excellent it was.
And more… I read a Psychology Today article on”Perfectionism” for a parenting class I am teaching this Saturday. It is worth reading.