And even now
there’s still a secret part
of me, unknown to the outside
filled with dark corners,
things that go bump in the night.
I wondered if I would ever be saved, ever
be one that others could like,
then it flashed. If there’s shadow,
there has to be light
(From an old journal entry, undated)
I’m the kid who hid in the clothes closet the first cold day at school because my warm clothes were raggedy. I got laughed at as I approached school, not just by the well off kids, but even the kids that were, for all intents and purposes, just like me. They seemed to laugh the loudest, I was someone worse off than them.
Mom told me that she had to steal money from my father’s pockets to buy me warm swaddling clothes when I was an infant during my first winter on the planet. The school year I found myself crying in the closet mom was gone and while I didn’t blame her I was too hurt to understand why children could be so mean.
I couldn’t understand how I could hurt so much. I hated my clothes more than I hated the taunting. If I had that year’s fashions it wouldn’t be me, in the cloak room, crying, hiding, wishing I were not there, invisible.
Who the fuck teaches their kids to be that damn ugly?
Warm weather means recess outdoors. There’s a regiment to all of it. Picture fifties playgrounds, same demographic splits, hidden warring within the order, but order nonetheless. Then there’s the lining up, boys on one side, girls on the other.
Lois McIntosh held my hand walking back into school. She looked just like her name sounds. She smiled that freckled face at me when we were told to reach over and hold the hand of the child next to us. She played next to me the following day and started to hold my hand even before we started walking toward our line up posts. She smiled at me with those bright eyes.
She later told me that she cried the night she told her mother about me hiding in the closet.
I missed my mom growing up in ways I’m still uncovering. I wonder how many questions went unasked because of her absence, how many conversations I’d have had with her about things that I soon learned to settle with my fists instead of my words…or by just walking the fuck away.
My feminine side had to learn how to grow all on its own.
I’ve had a series of different occupational titles over my career. The best way to describe my work life would be to say I help people. (That’s in defiance of all those adults who told me I’d never be able to make any money ‘helping people’ when that was the answer to the question “What do you want to do when you grow up?) The last thirty years or so I’ve worked as a leadership and executive coach, both in private practice and within corporate structures.
Over the years I’ve participated in a variety of professional and developmental workshops. In one of them I was the only male participant and after the end of the first of three days when we were debriefing our experiences one of the facilitators remarked that I was a queer heterosexual.
“Judith Light (the actress) said that about herself.”
“The fact that you know that proves my point, Chuck!”
I don’t know if that solidified my full embrace of my feminine side, but it certainly felt like it acknowledged it.
Being a dad has been the pleasure of my life. For one thing, aside from the pride of watching my children grow, it has given me a wealth of memories and stories to tell. And I light up when telling stories. One, they are about my children and I can feel what it was like when the thing I’m talking about was happening. Memory on a quantum, cellular level shit! Two, being a parent is the hardest and best thing I’ve ever attempted in my life.
I used to think I had to do the opposite of whatever I’d imagine my dad would do to be a good parent, a good father. That line of thinking stopped when Robert started asking questions. My favorite stories about him all start with his questions.
He’s about three and we’re walking around our neighborhood just before dusk when he notices the sky is filled with crows and he asks me where the crows are going.
“They’re flying to where they’re going to spend the night It’s called roosting.”
“Like where they sleep?”
“Yeah, where they sleep.”
A few evenings later, after I get home from work and before dinner we’re walking again. He looks up, sees crows and says, “Look dadda, the crows are going to bed!”
Parenting doesn’t always come with an immediate feedback loop sometimes it takes awhile for you to know that the child has actually picked up on what you have been trying to teach.
A few weeks ago my son the college kid told me I was level headed. I doubt I would ever use those words to describe me, but after twenty years of listening to whatever I’ve said to him those were the words he chose.
Right now I feel like an unfinished story, one that has meandered through life with a relatively unfocused view of what it means to be alive. I am more feeling than thinking, more emotional than ‘level headed’, with a quick anger and deep passions.
I am as fractured as this attempt at an essay, but so far, I am, and unfinished isn’t such a bad thing at my age. At least not to me!
Being a dad is like being a writer. You can only get better at it with practice, can only be better when you stay open to criticism, self examination, and a willingness to change.
(Another undated journal entry.)