“I give up!”
I heard my dad say those words so many times. You cannot imagine what impact that has on a young child. I know I heard it when I was maybe six or eight, but maybe four. I think Dad’s lung disease first got bad when I was six years old, so he was forty-three.
His “I give up” speech almost always included: how miserable he felt with his illness, how hard he had tried to make things go better, and how hopeless it all felt now. Often someone’s unfairness to him or downright abuse of him came in.
I tell you now, the absolute scariest thing for me about getting older is this: I understand better and better how my dad felt.
I don’t know that for sure, of course. But what once seemed so extreme and unreasonable, I can now relate to. I do not say this as a good thing.
And no, for the actual love of God, do not jump in with “See? Parents all get wiser as we get older.” I’ve addressed this in another post. My dad was wise in many ways and generous and caring beyond most men of his generation, but he was also bi-polar and severely unhealthy, physically and emotionally. His rantings and refusal to forgive haven’t suddenly transformed into wisdom.
But I miss him more than I used to. I know this is partly because, twenty years after his death, his unpleasantness no longer remains fresh in my mind while I do still remember clearly that he loved me. Praise God. In fact, as I fail and fail with my own children, I’m encouraged that what has stuck with me about Dad is how he truly did love me, as best he could within the limits of his own brokenness. I take some hope from that.
Coming back to the impact on me, as a child I would hear, in vivid detail, his despair. He was angry and discouraged and sick and beaten down, and all this makes sense to me now. He chose to tell that to a small boy. This still does not and, I hope, never will.
But hearing it changed me. I felt responsible. I felt guilty. I felt I had done something wrong, or was failing to do something right. I don’t think I could express any of these things at that time–in fact, had I been able to, likely someone in my life might have said, “Mike, that’s not reasonable or realistic. You don’t have to and aren’t supposed to. In truth, you can’t.” But no one said that. I don’t think anyone said, “Stop telling your six-year-old that you give up.” Or, if anyone did, Dad did not heed them.
I’m not going to sift through all the “this happened to me but I’m not a victim but I need to treat myself with understanding” nuances. That’s another post. The fact that, twenty years after his death and fifty years into my life I’m still dealing with it tells you what you need to know.
I wish that I could say “I feel really bad for how my dad suffered in his later years and I have no idea what that must have been like for him.”
But I feel like giving up. I feel angry too frequently. I’m not shouting this at full volume at my son Corin while he sits on a beanbag trying to watch TV (for one thing, we don’t own a beanbag). I’m also not chronically ill with a disease that makes every breath difficult and robs me of my energy and physical activity and much of my purpose. It’s sobering, and more than a little humbling, to say I don’t know if I would handle it any better if I had to go through the same thing Dad did.
I’ve lived a very different life than he did. I started following Jesus at nineteen and he found peace with God only near the end of his life, after he had lost much of his independence and mobility. I’ve worked hard to forgive others and not hold bitterness–and a good thing, too, because I suck at it and need all the work and all the grace I can get. I do think growing up with a man who could or would not forgive others–including me, at times–made it both harder to learn forgiveness and clearer what a high price I’d pay if I did not. I’m sure that’s why forgiveness is a central theme in my first novel–I’m trying to teach myself.
I want to give up because I have not fixed anything. The world is just as awful as when I got here, and, I would argue, getting worse. That’s the summary. There’s a longer, itemized list. Most days I feel like a failure and I mean loudly I. Feel. Like. A. Failure.
I think he did, too. We’ve had different goals. He felt sorry for himself for being so sick and he struggled to find purpose and meaning after retirement. He’d gotten screwed and now he had to gasp for air and people had abused him at every turn and no one appreciated what he’d done.
But then, for some years, it got better. He relaxed. He found ways to have fun. He and mom went on vacations. He golfed, for heaven’s sake. His breathing problems improved significantly. He laughed more and shouted less.
I am discouraged because people whom I thought shared my values have rejected them and argue that I’ve done something wrong. If it sounds like I’m not taking responsibility, well…that’s what’s happened. I’m taking responsibility to forgive and having a hellishly hard time doing it. I feel like giving up. I don’t know what giving up entails, but it calls to me.
So here we are. Tuesday. Hours before Ash Wednesday. Hours before Lent.
I think it’s time to give up. I’m ad-libbing this, so bear with me.
I’m not going to tell you I’m giving up changing the world. I cannot
. I’d be lying and I’m not trying to wrap this in a neat little false bow for either of us. Perhaps when I reach a healthier spirituality, when I become a contemplative, I will. Or perhaps I’ll simply have more peace about failing.
I’m very tempted to give up on some people. I’ve been offered this as the way of peace. I’m not sure I won’t end up doing this, but I’m not there yet.
Okay, I just took 45 minutes to ponder and meditate. Not usually what I do in the middle of writing one of these.
Giving up feeling like giving up is not an option. It doesn’t work that way. The only option is whether to keep going or not.
But doing things the same way over and over while expecting different results, we all know that as one version of madness.
I’m giving up these negative lines of thought. By that I mean I’m going to choose this Lent not to indulge in giving free reign to these negative thoughts, beliefs, voices, attitudes, responses running amuck in my brain. But by lines of thought, I also mean how those negatives get rolling there in the first place. I’m not sure of all the implications, but at the least this means I’m taking a Lenten fast from social media, getting worked up about politics, and unnecessarily entering conflictive situations (“unnecessarily” being the operative word there).
I announced on Facebook I was taking a break and then realized I would do better to make it a fast that started with Lent…but decided not to announce that, as well. I’m pretty compulsive, so this won’t be easy. When I feel anxious that I don’t know what’s going on in politics, I will either read news directly or, better, spend that time and ease that anxiety by praying.
But it is Lent. Soul-searching fits.