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My Dr. Seuss Moment

I had one of those Dr. Seuss moments tonight.
Much in the same way that Whoville – an entire world, populated with a people, rich with history, legends and culture – could exist on a falling snowflake; sometimes a person’s entire life can be reflected in a single moment of time.

It was another restless night. Unable to sleep, I picked up my phone at a little before one o’clock to check my Facebook feed and found that my eldest sister had called my father on his birthday for the first time in almost 26 years (at first I wrote “oldest sister”, but I knew she would be offended by that if she ever read this, so I changed it).

My response read:
Quote
The last time I got a birthday card from him was 21 years ago (my 18th). I realized a few years back, though, that not getting him one on his birthday not only took even more away from me than was already taken, but he did not take it away ...intentionally. The first card I gave him after all those years made him cry.

For what it's worth, I'm proud of you for taking the step - your heart must have been pounding. I know he will be beaming to me about it when I see him this weekend.

Curious... Did you call him at about 3:00 my time?

After I left the comment, I had the image of Donna (my sister) mussing my hair and making the face that every audience member of the Oprah show seems to spend most of their time wearing. Her little, baby brother told her he was proud of her.
This feeling may not have been fair to her, but it was also not without cause.
Being the youngest in a family of dominant, strong-willed people, I will always be seen as the sensitive, somewhat flaky, little brother. Though I have been at my current job for nearly ten years and worked my way to a Vice Presidency at the bank – no minor achievement for a high school dropout – I’m the kid who can’t hold a job and will never live up to his potential.
I realize this is a family dynamic, and not just reserved for the youngest. Donna (who never got around to finishing law school, because she realized that there are much more important things in life) is the obsessive over-achiever, John (who has lived on his own since he was 17, has raised four wonderful boys and hasn’t been in any trouble for many years) is the black sheep fuckup, Tammy… Tammy is a different story for a different time.

Still, it’s kind of curious how, though we spend many years fighting to shed these images our families have constructed for us, we end up internalizing them. Sometimes I wonder just how much of it is internalized as self-image. I wonder if they really see me as the precocious, flighty little kid I was or if that’s just the image I believe they hold of me.
When I’m in a meeting at work with people who are older than I am – even times when I’m confident that I am the most intelligent, capable person in the room – I will occasionally find myself feeling like the kid who has to prove himself worthy to sit at the grown-up table.
What the FUCK? I'm nearly 40 years old and if there is one problem I don't have, it's a lack of self-confidence.

For quite a few years I have been trying to figure out whether it has been this youngest child image or my relationship with my largely absentee father that drives me to seek out mentor figures to guide and teach me.

I recall being about 6 or 7 years old, standing on the toilet lid and watching my father shave. He puffed out his cheek, like Dizzy Gillespie, before running the razor over it. I said something like “Why do you make your cheek bumpy before shaving it?” His response was a sharp, “You don’t make it bumpy, you make it smooth!” in a tone that made me feel stupid for asking.
In another instance, right around the same timeframe, I was sitting in the driveway, “helping” him work on his car. He asked me for a crescent wrench and belittled me when I didn’t know which of the wrenches in his toolbox was the crescent wrench.
I taught myself to shave.
I taught myself to do most everything.

I hold no grudges against my father for this. In fact, this may have been the largest contributor to the independence and drive for knowledge I have now.
Nevertheless, Freud would tell me that I have been looking for a surrogate father all these years.
I hate to say the words, but every once in a while I’m forced to… Perhaps Freud was right on this one – at least partly right.

I have always had a way of attaching myself to older men who were, in some manner or another, “above” me. Be it my boss, teacher, learned acquaintance or the simple nobody who has lived a fuller, more interesting life than I have, I find myself drawn into that protégé role – and feel severely lacking without it.
Interestingly enough, when I find myself in the mentor role, I also thrive. Maybe it’s an appreciation for what I have valued in my various mentors over the years – maybe it’s a response to the disappointment in the relationship I had with my father – who knows… probably a bit of both.

As a person who finds it extraordinarily difficult to forge meaningful bonds with others, these mentor/protégé relationships I have discovered over the years have seen me through and helped me remain connected to the people and world around me. In yet another ironic twist stemming from my appallingly dysfunctional relationship with my old man, I have him to thank for this.

November 03, 2010, 11:41:57 pm

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lyzardly

"Still, it’s kind of curious how, though we spend many years fighting to shed these images our families have constructed for us, we end up internalizing them. Sometimes I wonder just how much of it is internalized as self-image. I wonder if they really see me as the precocious, flighty little kid I was or if that’s just the image I believe they hold of me."

I often wonder the same thing about myself. It took me a long time to realize that the my family doesn't (usually) still see me as the lazy teenager who can't be bothered to get out of bed before 4 pm. Yet, when I stay with family, I often feel embarrassed if I'm the last one awake. It's strange.

And for what it's worth, I'm not certain Freud would say you've been looking for a surrogate father all these years. That's something he reserves for women, I believe. Most likely he would tell you that your search for connection with a man in a mentor/student dynamic implies inverted sexuality. Which is just a Freudian way of saying that Freud would probably think you're gay.

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