“Where was THAT class in school?” I kept asking myself as I stood there starring at her. Tears were streaming down her face to the point where she was on the verge of hyperventilation, and it was entirely my fault.
Our adopted son was just a toddler and I had been struggling to come to terms with the fact that my perfectionism and OCD for an organized, drama-free life had been completely turned upside down.
We had been married with no children for 10 years and had lived together for 2 years before that. Our life had gone from an orderly controlled environment to a disorderly, chaotic, live by the seat of your pants existence in just a matter of 3 or 4 months, and I WAS NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT!!
Prior to the adoption, I thought about college expenses, doctor bills, baby gates, diapers and stuff. I was prepared for those types of things.
BUT, I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT BECOMING A FATHER AT 36 YEARS OLD WOULD HAVE ON ME.
Consequently, I blew it!
“What do you do around here all day anyway?!?” I had bellowed out in frustration after arriving home from a particularly stressful day at the pharmacy. Everything was everywhere, and instead of connecting with her about the difficulties she was having, I had made the entire situation about me and what I wanted.
Instead of stepping into the kind of husband and father I was capable of becoming, I had chosen to step into something else and it felt like a cow pie.
She was crying.
I was embarrassed and frustrated with myself. I knew better than to open my mouth instead of my arms. She needed a hug, and I had given her the worst thing a spouse can give: CERTAIN DISAPPROVAL!!
She handed me the baby, and without saying a word, she retreated to our bedroom balling all the way up the long flight of stairs. I felt truly awful.
“What now?” I asked as I looked at the sweet baby boy whose large smile and sparkling eyes told me he was happy to see the face of someone he had begun to trust and grow familiar with. “The first thing we have to do is work on your judgement of character!” I told him as I shook my head in self-disgust.
Conventional wisdom says: “Give her some time, then go up and apologize.” This was something different. This felt bigger than an apology. This needed serious self-inquiry. I needed to know WHY I acted the way I acted. If I was honest, I had been acting poorly ever since “adoption day”.
My actions and attitude were beginning to drive a serious wedge between us and I knew it. What I did not know was what I should do about it. My own emotions were a mess. My thoughts and the negative stories they created were confusing me.
Part of me (the judging part) really did think that she should be able to take care of the baby and keep the house spotless at the same time. Part of me was jealous. Since the baby had arrived, our time together had become extremely limited and generally overshadowed by fatigue as a solid night’s sleep had (at least temporarily) become a thing of the past.
Still, I loved them both with all of my heart and soul, and I wanted to be smarter than to let my world fall apart over what I felt was excessive pride and ego.
I remembered a book I had read called “Wherever You Go There You Are” by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn when I was struggling with work stress a year or so earlier. I went downstairs to my home office, located the book, and reviewed the book with my son on my lap.
As I reflected on what I was reading it became apparent to me that the problem was that I WAS CLINGING TO A LOUSY STORY THAT SAID THAT MY FAMILY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ALL ABOUT ME!! “What if?” I asked myself “I were to change my paradigm and BECOME ABOUT MY FAMILY?!?”
At first glance that sounded like a great philosophy, but I was overwhelmed with a feeling of instant discomfort. “What is this about?” I asked myself. No answer came. So I pondered. And I pondered. And after an hour or so I was completely stressed.
Just as I was starting to become freaked out by my own emotions, something weird happened: I consciously noticed how hard the story about how I should be the center of my wife’s universe was fighting for its life. I simply did not want to let it go. I had been carrying that lame story around for 12 years and since it was a self-serving story, I HAD GROWN QUITE ATTACHED TO IT
Fortunately, I have always been a spiritual student. I enjoy examining what different religions believe and why. I remembered reading that The Buddha had said that in any situation where you feel discomfort, THE STRESS IS IN THE RESISTENCE. I was resisting changing my paradigm, both consciously and unconsciously, and it was making my family miserable!!
It was making ME miserable!!
I looked down at my son who was now sleeping on a blanket next to me, smiled and said softly: “Your old man is such an idiot!!” I began to visualize my story as a 500 ton caboose that was holding back myself whom I pictured as driving a fancy new locomotive engine. In my mind, I simply exited the train’s engine walked up to the caboose, unhooked the coupling, and drove down the tracks without it.
At that point, I was flying down the tracks!!
I practiced visualizing that story a dozen or more times in my mind before I went upstairs.
My wife was dead to the world. The poor thing was exhausted. When she awoke, I chose not to “tell her” my caboose story. I chose to let my actions speak for themselves.
It is now fourteen years later, and the other day a friend asked me how my relationships with my wife and son became so close. I put my hand on her shoulder and said:
Michelle, one amazing day, I realized that everything that was ever wrong with any of my relationships was caused by something wrong with me and the stories I tell myself about whatever is going on.
As a father, I am the leader of my family. My number one job is to lead the emotional state of my wife and son, which of course, starts by managing my own emotions and the stories that drive them!!
What stories are you attached to that are holding you back in some way?
Does your family revolve around you, or do you revolve around them?
What about your organization, are there any personal attachments you need to let go of because they are holding back your team in some way or limiting your own personal progress?
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—Photo Credit: Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski/a>