Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Approval

I have found myself sitting with Phil having some late night dinners and after a few drinks have not had much interest in reading menus. Taking his lead, it’s hard to go wrong with a simple burger. But as we settled into a booth in a diner for some desert last week Phil looked up from the menu and with a twinkle in his eye said I had to order first. It was good natured but with a deserved edge. And I realized that this fits into the writing I have been considering concerning my therapy.

My therapy, my relationship with Bob, is on the backstretch. If the purpose of therapy is to understand things better, it has been a success and I suspect the next step – integrating and growing with this new found knowledge – is one I will need to tackle primarily on my own. Much like ordering desert it is time to make my own, hopefully wiser, choices.

There was a breakthrough in my therapy a few months back, a breakthrough both from my time with Bob and from the consequent conversations with my sisters. It seems there was a moment in my life when things went wrong or maybe it would be better phrased to say a moment in my family’s life because I was merely, as the new term goes, collateral damage of that evening. I was four at the time and my eldest sibling was eleven, time for what was then called junior high school. Except she did not want to go to junior high school, she did not want to go to any school. Now I knew this story already and have the slightest of memories of sitting in therapist’s kitchen while my Mom took her for a session.

As I revisit this with another sister, the classic middle child, she asks if I remember the night of the war, the night my father was in “you will go because I say so mode”, a night of raised voices and of, I fear, raised hands. I do not. But then my sister explains how my mother tried to in some way intercede, to protect her eldest, but my Dad was a force of nature not to be trifled with in his own home.

I finally had the answer to the question of my life – when did Mom go missing, when did the depression which morphed into Alzheimer’s begin. It seems it began one night when I was just four. She never truly re-appeared. Sure she cooked dinner, kept me clothed, bagged those school lunches. But emotionally speaking she was gone. This was 1958 – long before the era of Prozac and Lexapro. I can almost hear the gossip – she’s a quiet lady, her husband talks enough for them both (as I had grown to do around this house). Depression – what’s that?

It was not as if my Dad making up for her deficits did much, other than answer questions directed to her, just continuing the crushing of her spirit. He was, as Bob would point out, emotionally absent. An absent Dad, a Mom in the throes of silent depression and sisters who on some level were at best resentful of me, the male heir to the throne, the Prince of Beach Street. Who could blame them?

No wonder when I turned fourteen I adopted my friends as family and found solace in music and pot. As we listened to the music – a rich time indeed with Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and The Grateful Dead understanding our angst – as we smoked the joints and snuck the sweet wines, there was approval, there was that sense of family. In retrospect it does seem quite a reasonable reaction. But in hindsight, it was not enough: the search for approval became a backdrop to my existence.

And as I look back at my choices over the years I see how many of them have been colored by my desire for approval and acceptance, by my desire for the comfort of a male figure. I do not write this as a “that’s why I’m gay” moment – that is really of little concern in all this. But it has undeniably impacted on my life choices in ways big and small. It drove my educational choices, it impacted my career choices and it downright seized control of my relationship choices. Each of these could be, and someday probably should be their own posts.

But those choices have been made and their consequences are a part of who I am. As I continue to work through these past choices, the central issue remains: learning self acceptance, learning to make my own choices, the “ownership” I wrote of not so long ago. And of course learning to be the first to order desert.

3 comments:

Paul said...

Nate, I believe the "search for approval" is at the core of everyone's existence.

Do you -- or Bob -- really feel that it is ever possible, or appropriate, to make decisions solely for oneself?

We live in a society, not alone on a island.

- - - - -

I'm sure that your father was a strong influence in your life. Most fathers are, whether actively connected or absent. But I'm not sure that I can buy the concept that your choices are a reflection of your desire for the comfort of a male figure. Bob would really need to sell me on this.

Tony said...

You're on the right track Nate. Just don't over analyze things to much. if you spend too much time inn the past, it inhibits your time moving forward.

I have learned to tell myself that while my parents may have had short-comings themselves and in my raising as a child as well, they used the best tools they had for the circumstances. None of us is perfect. The real task is coming to accept who we are and to move forward in our life journey as the person we are...enjoying what time we do have with whomever is a part of our life.

Joan said...

I too built a family out of friends. But in the end, we cannot outrun who we are or where we came from.

I have some serious Daddy-issues as well. My dad used to get drunk and let his friends do whatever they wanted to me (as long as they kept providing him with alcohol). This started when I was four and only ended when I was old enough to stop it myself.

However, over the past couple of years, I've worked really hard to try and forgive him for my own sake. He's never admitted any of it or appologized, but carrying something that heavy around all the time will ruin the good things that come along.

Sometimes we just have to accept people as the flawed individuals they are, not as the people we wish they had been.

All the best to you. I hope you find what you need in therapy or somewhere else.