As I’ve mentioned before, I have a number of essays already written and on the shelf ready for distribution, but I also keep getting great ideas for new posts. My plan is to write the works that present themselves at the time and save the reserves for when inspiration escapes me. Here’s one of the new ones.
The other day I mentioned that while I was growing up, my dad (Umberto or Humbert; or better known to every kid in a three mile radius as “Humby”, (who is not to be confused with Humby the Wonder Dog…but that’s another blog)), used to say, “There’s a right way; a wrong way and then there’s your way.” I always thought it was kind of a putdown, but time, experience, maturity and having kids of my own has led me to reassess my original take.
First of all, I was a morbidly obese child until I hit puberty, so I was already on the low side of the self-esteem curve. Also, unbeknownst to everyone, I was/am profoundly dyslexic and felt bad about the fact that I always had to work three times as hard to get half the results of my classmates. Don’t even get me started on all the yelling and tears that resulted over math homework (it’s kind of hard to solve an equation when you never see the same number twice in a row.) So I was already naturally listing toward taking even remotely critical comments as a personal affront.
It also didn’t help that my dad was, without exception, one of the most well-read, well-traveled and well educated men I have ever known. When he would drop that Right/Wrong/You comment on me, my heart would plummet to my shoes and stay there. I felt like a permanent shallow water resident of the family gene pool.
In Monday’s blog, I mentioned my dad’s comment in passing, but then I found that I couldn’t get it off my mind. I did what I usually do in situations like this and I spent my meditation sessions over the next few days contemplating the topic and I let my subconscious process the information without getting in my own way.
One of the most startling realizations I received from all this navel gazing is that, in his own unusual way, the Old Man may have actually been complimenting and encouraging me.
I realized that most of the time these comments would come after I had one of my frequent dust-ups with the nuns, one of my Rube Goldberg inventions blew up in my face or I had pulled one of my incredibly stupid stunts…and got caught. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that in the vast majority of these situations, I may not have come out on top, but I didn’t get creamed either.
Oh sure, there was a lot of shouting and yelling (and an occasional whack on the back side of my head), but when he calmed down Dad would occasionally sit down with me and ask “What was your ultimate goal? What was your process? Where did the process go wrong? How can you prevent it from happening again?” He would walk me through my chain of reasoning and my choices and point out where I did well and where my train of thought derailed. He actually made me a better, smarter and more effective pain in the ass.
I think that, in his own way, perhaps he was pointing out and encouraging the fact that my solution (if not even the actual goal) while so far out of the mainstream, still more often than not worked out in my favor. Perhaps his comment and talks were his way of helping me to keep thinking ‘outside the box’ while refining my thought process so that things started working out in my favor much more often than not.
He also taught me that just because things didn’t work out like you had planned doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, he taught me that you have not failed until you quit. You haven’t failed until you refuse to get up; as long as you’re giving the best you have to give at the moment, failure isn’t an option. My Old Man taught me that unsuccessful attempts aren’t failure, they’re fact-finding and options testing; refining the idea or process until success is inevitable…as long as you get up the seventh time after being knocked down the sixth.
Perhaps…this is all wishful thinking after the fact, or perhaps I finally got it right after nearly 50 years. Perhaps he was actually encouraging me or perhaps he was putting me down…it really doesn’t matter. The thing that really matters is that I have shifted my thinking about the situation and have turned it from a negative to at least a neutral if not positive memory and I REALLY did learn the lessons (I think) he was trying to teach.
Perhaps after all these years I did indeed finally get it right. In the words of Jake Cohn at the close of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Your reality is what you decide it to be.
Hope you have an intentionally great and forgiving day.
Inadvertent Lessons from My Old Man