Writing in my head has certain advantages. I can edit more easily. In fact, I forget entire paragraphs sometimes. Or maybe that is a disadvantage. Writing on paper, especially, but also on the computer is more difficult. I have to be more precise. Painting word pictures involves a skill that I sometimes doubt I possess. Often I just write what is in my head as it comes to me – which means that I often have to back track and clarify. Writing this blog has never been about making things clear to anyone but me. I’ve never blocked out a post the way I would block out a research paper – or even an opinion paper – for school. With this post, though, I am attempting to be a little more careful – and a little clearer – with my words, because this one, more so than the last, is all about clarity.
First, I need to point out that my father was never my hero. That’s not why I chose the title of this post. I chose it because I really like the song, but also because I believe that certain ideas get into our very souls and once there, those ideas are incredibly difficult to get rid of. Those ideas were my heroes – the things I relied on every single day of my life – and those ideas must die. Now.
One of those ideas was that I am just like my father. It has been my greatest fear. My favorite line in the song is “never let your fear decide your fate” – which is exactly what I had done. One day I woke up and realized I had become my father – angry, powerless, bitter and afraid of life. But I have something he never had: the knowledge, the certainty, the faith that life is amazing and that I have the power to make it just about anything I want it to be. That knowledge, plus the will to make it happen, saved my life.
That was ten years ago. It’s been a strange journey with many, many side trips. I’ve come a long way, baby. But I reached a certain level of contentment, a certain level of understanding, and stopped. Because I was afraid to go further and I thought that being almost happy was close enough to actual happiness that it didn’t matter. The problem was that I never killed my heroes. I never got rid of the ideas and beliefs I learned when I was that little kid. Sooner or later, that shit always comes back.
If I had been just a few years older when those three events – my father’s heart attack, mental meltdown and my mother’s return to work – happened, I probably wouldn’t be writing this because I would be a completely different person, with a completely different set of ideas (and resultant issues). But I wasn’t older. I was five, and I got what I got.
I learned not to trust anyone. Ever. For any reason. Because people will turn on you.
I learned not to talk about anything important, certainly not emotions. Because people will ridicule you mercilessly.
I learned how to turn pain into anger. Because people exploit weakness.
I learned that nothing I did was ever good enough. Because every B should have been an A.
I learned that I wasn’t worthy. Because the two words I heard most were “shut up.”
I’m pretty sure those weren’t the lessons he intended to teach me. Whoops. My brain knows he was wrong and that he utterly failed at real people skills. My brain knows I am worthy and capable and smart and kind. But my soul was another story and when it comes down to it, I always trust my feelings over my thoughts. Which is normal and natural, I think, but in my case it undid 25 years of effort.
I’ve spent the last month immersed in the ideas of inspirational leaders like Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay. Or what I like to call “metaphysical tree-huggery.” I have always believed that thoughts are powerful things. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a bad mood and decided to act like I was in a good mood. And then … it was no longer acting. I was in a genuinely good mood. It seems simplistic, but I know from my own experience that it works. What I never managed to put together is that it works for everything. The only way to change my beliefs – to kill my heroes – is to replace those beliefs with different thoughts repeatedly, regularly and relentlessly.
When I was in the 4th grade, so 9 or 10 years old, I was having a terrible time learning fractions. I just didn’t get it. So my father, in his infinite wisdom, decided to teach me fractions in the middle of dinner – which happened to be at Minsky’s Pizza (for those of you who care about details). My father was not loud, but his voice carried, and we were in the middle of dinner, in the middle (literally) of a restaurant. And he wasn’t a patient man. And I didn’t understand fractions. And the more he tried to shove it into my brain, the more I resisted and understood even less. He wrote fractions out on a napkin. He took everyone’s napkin. I still didn’t get it. And with the pronouncement that he didn’t understand why I didn’t understand – IT’S EASY! – he gave up. And for the next 35 years, I believed I was shitty at math.
When I took Algebra in high school, he tried to help me. For about three minutes. Until he said, and I quote, “Goddamn it! It’s EASY!” and left the room. I also took Geometry. I struggled with that as well. One day he came into the kitchen while I was trying to do my homework and asked what I was doing. I told him Geometry and he said, and I quote, “Geometry’s a pud.” But by then I was 17, so after he was safely out of the room, I said, “You’re the pud.” But I still believed I was shitty at math.
Then, as part of my now useless Bachelor’s degree, I had to take not one, not two, but four math classes. And two of them were Algebra. And … I got it. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t simple. But I got it and I got a B in the class. I’ve never been happier with a B in my life. But I still believed I was shitty at math.
I am not only not shitty at math, I am not a shitty person. I am kind and generous and sweet and loving and funny and smart and creative. Those are the thoughts I use to replace the ones that say I am stupid and selfish and angry and stingy and bitter and, to top it all off, shitty at math. Feelings are only thoughts that have been repeated continually.
In the last post, I said – or at least implied – that I have forgiven my father for being an asshole. I can’t think of a person in my life (or no longer in my life) that I haven’t forgiven. I’ve let it go. The person I need to forgive today is … me. I did the best I could with what I had to work with at the time – and frankly, I think I did a pretty good job considering the circumstances. I don’t know why I hold myself to a higher standard. I’ve forgiven the person who taught me those lessons. So if I can forgive him for being an asshole, I can certainly forgive myself for learning what he taught me.
One belief. One hero. One tiny death at a time. Until, one day, the person I am on the inside will match the person you see on the outside.