Conspirator

Cleverness is its shield and also its sword.

It camouflages itself as reason. Overrides your better angels. Knowing your fears, it plays upon them, a crescendo that rises to an apex that is impossible to ignore. There are cracks within you, and it inveigles into them, pushes them wider. All the while tricking you into believing you’re something you’re not. Too often, you listen. It whispers to you in a tone only you hear.

Your conspirator misleads you time and time again. After it has worked its alchemy on you, it slithers back to the darkness within, waiting for another opportunity to bring its agenda to the fore. To conspire with you, unwittingly, to follow its whims. Only after the fact can you see the falsity of its claims. Its true genius, though, lies in its ability to rebirth itself again, unseen, and lure you into its trap and plunge you into its morass.

Conspirator, thy name is doubt.

Nowhere is my conspirator more active than in my role as a father, especially as my children edge closer to adulthood. My every statement, every action is subject to its blistering feedback, after which it masterfully rewrites my mental code to assign the source as logic rather than itself.

Doubt is a chameleon.

Teen age years are rife with self-exploration and self-expression. What they are not, by and large, are times where my fatherly advice is needed. The nature of adolescence is discovery, and there’s not much room for my wisdom from a pre-internet time.

That leaves me in an alien role: a parent who isn’t needed constantly. The younger the kids, the more you are needed, an essential piece of their days. Years and experience gained for them means stature lost me. It seems an odd space for me to occupy. This unfamiliarity is where the conspirator finds a foothold yet again and uses fear to bolster itself.

Since I want my kids to become good adults, I believe my thirty years’ experience as human adult qualifies me to dole out those nuggets of insight. Because my capacity as a dad previously commanded their attention, I overestimate their willingness to hear my life lessons. To their credit, they desire to make their own way, to learn as I did: trial and error. The challenge is for me to take my latent expectations out of the equation. The conspirator instigates here as well, playing on my hurt feelings about being needed less and insisting what I have to offer from “real world” experience is in fact required to be given.

Doubt is resourceful.

The truth that my conspirator doesn’t want me to grasp is that I have done an admirable job as a father. My children have been imbued with the morals my wife and I believe to be imperative for operating as a good person in the adult world. They practice these more than I realize, thanks to the deception that doubt weaves into my thoughts. While they can be abrasive and lean towards ignoring advice given to them most times, they truly are good and wonderful people. They are working through how they fit in society, just as I had (and in truth, am still doing). They care. They love. They grow. And oh, how proud I am of them.

I’ll set a watch for that conspirator. It is gifted, and will breach my defenses at times, insinuating itself into my consciousness. More than four decades of deft maneuvering makes it a formidable foe. While I may never be rid of it, perhaps it can be steered in other directions. I certainly have no shortage of insecurities it can latch on to.

Doubt is flexible, after all.

Photo credit: DrCuervo

 

 

 

 

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Master of Peeves

A tablet left on the couch, awaiting destruction by an unsuspecting person who blindly sits down. Endless cords and chargers, always left plugged in, with nary a device to send its replenishing current to. Dishes abandoned in places no dishes should be, the household equivalent of a grocery cart toppled over on an empty playground .  A minefield of shoes and book bags left at the door, requiring entrants to navigate an obstacle course that more often resembles Wipeout than American Ninja Warrior. And of course, the perpetual challenge of putting toilet paper in its rightful place.

These are a few of my least favorite things.

In fact, these seemingly innocuous childlike actions are my most infuriating things.

Taken individually, these are nominal indiscretions. Collectively, they engorge my rage gland to bursting. One by one, each indignity pushes my anger level upward until I explode, Mount Vesuvius-style, expletives and bluster spewing forth in a majestic display. After the initial grand eruption, grumbles sputter out the sides of my mouth, embarrassment overriding aggravation, my mood cooling like so much magma meeting the air. The only way to save face is to retreat to some other location, irritation mingling with shame, faux complaints mumbled incoherently.

Sadly, this is not the end of this disaster. Now that my personal volcano has let loose, so it must bubble beneath the surface I privately stew on the heinous infraction (or so I have built it up to that level in my mind) that caused me to blow my figurative top.

“Haven’t I asked them to not do those things hundreds of times?”

“Have I not been clear enough in my fire and brimstone diatribes?”

“Don’t they respect me enough to extend the smallest of efforts to keep me from going ballistic?”

“We provide so much for them. How is it too much to ask to do the most menial of tasks ?”

This is my jukebox of justification, and it plays all the hits, over and over again. Its cyclical nature ensures that I stay ever-livid, rage boiling just below my exterior. I am dangerous, a smoking crater of exasperation that can erupt at any moment.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed. Not so long ago, my wife put to me a question that shook me: “Where is that happy-go-lucky guy I met all those years ago?” She had a valid point. Upon a time I was a devout believer in the mantra “Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.” Now a simple misplaced cup will launch me into a soliloquy on the virtue of responsibility as if that one cup will be the fulcrum that pushes our kids down the road to ruin.

Where has that man gone? The one who always saw the glass as half full (regardless of its location), the one who wore a grin like it was his favorite shirt? The cheerful one, the one who exuded glee and happiness?

That man had kids that became teenagers. The age of confusion and hormones. When the journey to discovering themselves, physically and otherwise, begins. Chaos reigns in their minds, even if they are awash in smugness when you are bestowing wisdom upon them. We’ve been there too, feeling like we understand the world so much better than our parental units while alternately being thoroughly confused at who we are supposed to be. Tumultuous and righteous, they are grappling with themselves and the two worlds they live in: the real and the digital. It’s a lot to ask a developing human at their most vulnerable stage mentally and emotionally to be perfect in their actions. They are coping with hurdles most parents of teens have not had to contend with: crafting and honing an online persona in the midst of figuring out their lives in our tactile existence. On those grounds alone they deserve far more leeway for missteps than I have allowed.

Yet, despite these truths, I have done little in the way of granting such graces. I’ve done mostly the opposite, letting minuscule peeves rule my days and nights with our kids. I’ve allowed perceived slights fester within, squashing the good man, the happy man, the man who found joy in life and his family. Perhaps my offspring aren’t the only ones weathering the internal storm of upheaval .

There is certainly an appropriate time and place for frustration to show with your kids. It is healthy for them to see you upset, and understand the why of the disappointment or irritation with their action or inaction, especially in the moment. Family is rarely Rockwellesque; it tends to be more in the vein of Dali. Strange and odd, but all the more lovely for its natural eccentricities.

Armed with the understanding of my teenagers’ challenges as well as my own, I will try to lessen the grip of the wee things that wriggle their way under my skin. I will endeavor to keep in mind that we are all imperfect, and that is OK. Of course I’ll slip up. I’ll burst at the seams here and there, regressing into the easily agitated father role that I’ve lived in as of late. But I will, over time, quell the dweller of peeves within, and return the volcano to dormancy.