I Was Perfect, And Other Lies My Father Believed

Image uploaded from iOS (27)My earliest memory involves my dad.

In the memory, I am standing outside of my house in Cleveland, Ohio, on our lawn. I’m hurt and petulant about a dust-up with my across-the-street neighbor that ended in mutual bite marks.

My father gently encourages me to mend the fence when my playmate offers me an orange creamsicle as a peace offering.

I remember his kind assurances, and warm arm around my waist.

I refuse the peace offering – as my mouth waters and I imagine the golden creamy taste in my mouth.

But my father does not push me. He does not laugh, either.

He just accepts my stand and, probably, smiles sweetly.

* * * *

My dad recently told a dear friend of mine, in a conversation they were having about parenting, that he always thought I was a perfect child.

I was not a perfect child.

But I tried very hard to be.

I tried very hard to be sweet and quiet and peace-loving and encouraging and diligent and a great student and a good athlete. I was persistent and dedicated about my role in my family and I even gave thoughtful effort to holding my own space in my family. I wanted my presence and perspective as the only girl to be seen, to be understood, and to impact the men around me.

I did mess all that up at times, of course: Mostly by being very emotional and too tender and by allowing my temper to get the best of me.

I did bad things, too. Normal stuff and mild stuff. Stuff that made my Dad mad, and things he had to come to the rescue on.

Yet, some 22 years since my most rebellious times, my dad still holds to the idea I was perfect.

* * * *

It’s a miracle of life that when you have children, you have had no experience being a parent and you have no idea what you are doing.

The miracle part is that you do it anyway. You manage to learn on the job, and become better and better at it.

Even though I had great parents myself, the idea of becoming a parent terrified me.

Until I held 6 pounds and 8 ounces of my firstborn daughter in my arms, I was really, really scared of being a parent. Always slow to make a decision, it was the biggest, most irreversible thing I had ever done.

My husband didn’t seem a lick scared.

If he was, he never let on.

Even before our baby girl was born, his parenting energy was all confidence and excitement.

He has been the best father since before that day, and from that day, on.

Whenever I have been at a loss for what to do as the official source of parental guidance for these incredible humans entrusted to us, I tune into his instinct, into his love for them, and dive into his insight and huge heart, to determine the way.

In the last few years, I’ve witnessed such a beautiful evolution in his parenting of our children. He’s gone from the protective and possessive father of young children to a dad as comfortable joking with them as he is laying down the law on the things that matter.

In return, they have an abundant tenderness for him, and a trust in his love and strength that melts my heart and reminds me deeply of how I feel about my own father.

Isn’t that something? Another surprise gift of parenting.

The gift that sometimes, the halcyon, never-ending chain of love that began in the hearts of two lovers, two parents, can pass down in the love of a father to a child, who grows nurtured by perfect love, and one day finds love of her own, with a husband, a whole man, and then has a child, who is loved and adored as she was – in a way her father once did.

There are not many cycles in life that illustrate as much complete and pure beauty, as much smoothly realized potential as that.

This is the highest blessing of fatherhood. This is the fruit of men who dare to show the gentle and powerful among them, alike, the strongest and most vulnerable versions of themselves.

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What Our Friends See in Us

Mr. Bailey told me recently he admires me for my resilience. By “told me,” I mean one day when I was feeling particularly low I prodded him to tell me what he liked best about me. Anyway, that’s when he said the thing about me being resilient.

Modern Mary considers the future, reflects on the compliments of the past. Amazing painting, “The Future” by Felicia Olin. http://www.feliciaolin.com

It delighted me, as I was feeling not so resilient at the moment. So maybe it was a Jedi-mind trick that he executed quite well.

In any case, it wasn’t the first time I had heard that particular trait called out.

My teenage years consisted of much intense falling in love. In my mind, though, I was not boy crazy. In fact, I despised my classmates who were always talking about some boy or lusting after some dude who they were too shy to speak to or who would not give them the time of day.

Instead, (shameful admission forthcoming…) I chose to be that outgoing, annoying girl who perennially had a loser or scumbag boyfriend who she kept breaking up with and getting back together. Ad infinitum.

Sometime in this morass of teenage girl angst, I found myself bottomed out in the aftermath of yet another lame-o boyfriend break up. I was whining to my best friend, when she said nearly the same thing.

“Mary, you’re nothing if not resilient,” was what she said. (Yes, we did speak like that then.

I may be modern, but I still have a thing for Walt Whitman.

We were major literature lovers who just as often quoted Whitman as we did The Cure.)

The comment, back then, stopped me in my tracks. I had not considered my passionate falls into love and writhing agony I felt after each break up as being resilient. To me, it felt confusing and weak.

Modern Mary considers the idea of “resiliency”. Another amazing painting by Felicia Olin, http://www.feliciaolin.com

As life turns out, resilience has turned out to be a pretty good trait to possess. At my (ahem) tender age, I’ve dealt with a good helping of suffering, betrayal, isolation, depression, grief, change and challenge; humbling humiliation and heart-stopping, hope-busting loss. This last go around had me walking underneath Eeyore’s black rain cloud for the better part of two years. It made the teenage years look like an episode of The Facts of Life. I never thought I would emerge with a place for hope to rest in my soul again.

As it turns out, resiliency as a defining characteristic/flaw is not easily dashed.

But I’ve realized another part of resiliency’s tenacity lies in the precious people you have around you to point it out to you. In that regard, I’ve been ridiculously blessed by a host of amazing friends/sisters/life guides (and, of course, Mr. Bailey, who must deal with all of my crazy crap my wonderful friends are spared).

Thank you for being a reason to find resilience again, for quietly, patiently marking the path back. Thank you for gathering up the broken pieces I had discarded, for believing when I didn’t, for crying with me, for whispered prayers, generous pours, and, mostly, for forgiving me my general lunacy.

Birdhouse in Your Soul by Felicia Olin

I hold so much gratitude to you for helping me repair this birdhouse in my soul.