Words from a Father

Husband of One, Father of Four

Tag: feeling

447. True Peace

True peace is tangible, but is beyond understanding.

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408. Essay: One Shot

I only have one shot at raising you kids, only one chance to parent you. This time right now is never replayed — we can’t record it, rewind it, download it, or check out the source code of this time with you, and then change it in either my memory or yours. One shot and then it’s done.

I will father you for a little while and then you’ll go through a long transition where you begin to take real ownership of your decisions, become your own person, forge your own identity. That is when our relationship will change . . . you will decide to continue to be fathered by me or not. A lot of that will depend on how I have done until that point. It will depend on how I have stewarded our relationship thus far.

This transition will bring a new aspect into the parent–child relationship: friendship. You will move from being “just the kid” to being so much more. It will be friendship based on history and trust and lots more things I don’t understand. It’ll be a brand new era. But the decision you will someday make starts with the hour-by-hour interactions we have now, with the way I make you feel when you’re around me and how you feel when we’re apart.

I only get one shot at it. So my philosophy is that, at any given point, I want you to feel love. Whether I’m feeding you, teaching you something new, disciplining you, playing hide and seek with you, dancing, singing, talking, or running around the house with you, I want you to feel love.

I only get one shot, so I’ll take my chances with love.

361. Quotes: Helen Keller on the Best Things

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart.”

—Hellen Keller (27 June 1880 – 1 June 1968)

332. Essay: Love at First Sight (The Spark)

I don’t think “love at first sight” is a real thing because it beggars the understanding of what love truly is. I certainly understand the appeal of a meant-to-be fated romance, but that has not the depth that twenty or fifty years of loyal marriage contains. First-sighted love is shallow by comparison.

Maybe “spark at first sight” or “connection at first sight” is more accurate. But those phrases won’t catch on because they’re not romantic enough; they’re too factual and miss all the poetry of the feelings of the moment.

But isn’t that the point? Love isn’t a moment. It’s a million moments back to back. Love is the totality of what is looked back on, it’s the reminiscences by those who have always held that one relationship in higher regard than any other, even among myriad opportunities. Love is not fleeting, not temporary, not able to be had with whomever and whenever.

The spark is a welcomed and celebrated first step — an emotional doorway drug — along the path of love, but it is not love itself. The spark is the emotional high. It’s the manic part of the plot, the shallow scenes of the movie that are fun and easy to write but not where the depth of the characters is explored.

We can all recognize the universality of a story that highlights the spark, but we long to connect with the truth revealed in commitment’s depth. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not a romance, but a tragedy — if for no other reason than that they never progress past manic emotionalism and into something more mature. The spark was all they had, and even that was quickly gone.

But compare that with the excellent prelude of the computer animated film Up. The spark between the couple sets the buoyant tone and we get the sense that great love has flourished between them. Their love has matured through life’s ebb and flow, through achievements and disappointments. The movie’s silent prelude leads us through the spark of their romance, the depth of their love, and the pain of losing the same. It is this arc that moves us emotionally and prepares us to suspend disbelief when, as an older man, the main character launches into his greatest journey, all borne from the depth of his commitment. (And notice from Shakespeare that irrational sacrifice is the outcome of the spark’s immaturity, while in Up we see that love puts correct emphasis on enthralled living.)

The spark certainly has its role. It convinces you to lower your defenses, take a risk, and then take responsibility for a real relationship. It’s an invitation into something greater. The spark is an emotional promise, “There is something greater than what you feel right now, something worth the time, worth your heart.” The spark can’t take responsibility for what comes after and how the relationship unfolds, but it is truthful in its promise to open the doorway to love.

The spark says, “Carpe diem,” this is the only moment that matters, the most important moment of your life. But what comes after convinces you that every moment since has mattered, has made your life what it is. This is much more than the spark could ever have given; this is love.

296. Essay: My Theory on Recollection

Fill in these sentences with whatever phrases you want:

  • My time in high school was:
  • My relationship with my mother when I was in elementary school was:
  • My relationship with my father when I was in elementary school was:
  • The first sporting event I remember attending was:
  • What I remember about the first time I performed in front of others is:
  • I do or do not want to spend time with my parents because:

I haven’t seen this psychological theory out there anywhere, so I’m going to spell out my theory here. I believe our individual history is inscribed and recalled primarily in emotion rather than in fact.

When we think back over our life, it seems we can recall many facts, but not with absolute clarity or without bias. We collect various series of events, package them under a heading, and assign an emotional descriptor for them.

It strikes me that this is the opposite of a computer system. A computer requires a name for a folder, a photo, video, or file. You can tag it with facts: geolocation, year, name of the person in the picture, title or main subjects of the document. In human interactions, these facts are taken for granted. We can tell that picture was a night wedding with our daughter as the flower girl, this document is about current trends in whatever subject, this slideshow is for chapter 18. But we don’t take pictures to keep facts straight, we do it to relive the emotions of the event or those related to that person.

We name files by facts. When someone asks about the wedding or how our vacation was, we answer with an overall feeling: “It was beautiful . . . so much fun . . . the best vacation ever . . . the most romantic and joyous ceremony I’ve been to.” We are using emotion to recall how the expectation matched with the actual experience. Computers can’t determine whether something is funny, pitiable, wretched, fair, or inspiring. And neither can anything else in nature. Emotional recollection is one of the astounding things that makes us human.

This emotional recollection theory becomes even more clear when we think back over significant chunks of time in our life. Junior high, high school, college, those few years in the military or in that other state. What immediately comes out is an overarching feeling of that time in our life. “It was horrible . . . I had so much fun with all my friends in school . . . most embarrassing years of my life . . . exhilarating to see him play one of the best seasons of his career . . . I was lonely because I didn’t have many friends.”

What we’ve done is opened the file in our head for that time in our life — and we’ve felt it all over again. That’s the primary way we connect with our own history. We don’t list off facts as much as we recall how that time felt overall and then back it up with selected experiences correlating to that main feeling.

It’s easy to see how one reinforces the other, facts and feelings working in tandem to get a more complete picture of each significant season of our personal history. We go through a week and stamp an emotion on it: great week. The next week: great again. The next two weeks: also great. So that month goes in the “great” pile. A few more like that and we can check off those six months as a really good stretch. It works with negative seasons of life as well.

Overall, how were your interactions with me as your dad? If you felt loved, taken care of, special, the top on my list, secure or safe, and that you could trust me, then you will probably have a positive recollection of me. If you felt you were not loved, not worth spending time with, unsafe or insecure with me, or that you could not trust me, then you will probably have a negative recollection of me. And your emotional recollection of our past will determine how you interact with me right now. You may remember a few instances of things that did or did not happen, but it will largely be based on your feelings — those tangibly intangible guides of our actions.

So, that’s my theory: Our individual history is inscribed and recalled primarily in emotion rather than in fact, and those emotions guide our current and future interactions.

And this is sobering.

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