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Continually Learning My Lessons

Posted Sep 15 2009 4:38pm

It always amazes me how a seemingly insignificant stream of events can lead to learning a rather significant lesson.

My Dad came for a visit last week and I invited him to watch me kickbox. He was duly impressed. Afterwards he said, “You should keep your elbows in closer to your sides.” He quickly followed that up with, “it was towards the end of the class…you were probably tired.” You have to understand that he didn’t say it with a critical or judgmental tone, it was said in a rather kindly way.

But I bristled. Inside I was thinking, “He always finds something to criticize…what the hell…he has a lot of nerve to criticize me, I’d like to see HIM get up there and train like I did for two hours.” But I also knew that he was right.

On the car on the way home I said, in a mostly neutral tone of voice, that he has a tendency to find something to criticize. I reminded him of the time that he found a grammar error in my first “Why Weight” essay, which ended up getting published in Grace magazine.

We didn’t argue or have harsh words; it was sort of humorous and light. One thing you have to realize is that I didn’t grow up with my Dad; he and my mother were divorced when I was two. I saw him often enough and I totally idolized him for the longest time. I found it hard to be mad at him for anything.

It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that I think our relationship has become more of a “normal” adult father/daughter relationship. I notice a widening divide in how we think socially and politically, and I am more apt to say what I think. It’s a healthier relationship.

But getting back to his comment about my elbows – it stayed with me and I thought about the various ways in might have responded instead. I could have just said, “Gee you’re right Dad…that’s something I have to work on.” Later on, I told him my thoughts. I also told him about “soft eyes” and how I’ve been working on having soft eyes for both myself and for others.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how good it feels to forgive myself for my imperfections. And how, when I feel less critical of myself, I am less critical of others. I also thought about how parents, in general, are able to elicit bristly responses especially when we’re trying to avoid them, and how, perhaps, they might be critical of themselves.

In the end I think it boils down to being disappointed when our parents aren’t perfect, even though we know they can’t or shouldn’t be. That got me to thinking about the times in my life when I’ve been harsh and critical and that in hindsight, felt “icky.”

Over the years I’ve had what seemed like all-consuming “issues” with various members of my family. I remember that all I wanted to do was spew spew spew to anyone who would listen. Being critical, judgmental and right is what was modeled in my family so I didn’t know any other way of being, even though I didn’t like being that way!

Now I understand that it just doesn’t jive with who I am.

And in the process of writing this, I figured something out: in those years when I was spewing my venom, I was either afraid to be myself, or I didn’t know how. And so I punished myself with food.

It’s interesting to see my evolution from “woman who has issues” to “woman who is pretty much okay with everything.” It’s interesting to observe my own reactions, to be more objective and say, “Oh, look at that, you bristled” or “cool, you didn’t let your buttons get pushed that time.” It’s not like we change overnight in a linear fashion, but rather we bump along, sometimes revisiting old stuff. But over time, all of a sudden we find ourselves having made some progress.

I’ll end with a quote I saw today: “Grace is the power of love that renders all mistakes temporary.”

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