I've been forced into an "art-day" by Girlfriend; against my better judgement I've decided to turn to the only medium that I'm remotely skilled at. It's been far too long since I've written anything of worth and as I sit here, pondering my lack of output in the last 4 years, I'm left wondering if I have anything substantial left to offer to "The Conversation". I think I did once, when my integrity and identity were intact and people were genuinely curious about my life here. For reasons too numerous to count though, not the least of which is my own retreat from reflective thought put down on paper, I can't shake the feeling that I've lost the ability to speak and be heard. Girlfriend and I are reading a book about marriage together given to me by my sister; we take turns reading it aloud to the other and as salient points are read we often stop and discuss our thoughts. Thus far it's been a fairly blithe and carefree romp through the hypothetical world of marriage and commitment; it's been easy to agree with most of what the author has written and so the questions as posed by Girlfriend haven't shaken me or left me searching. The other day though she was reading aloud the following passage:
"Some people ask who they are and expect their feelings to tell them. But feelings are flickering flames that fade after every fitful stimulus. Some people ask who they are and expect their achievements to tell them. But the things we accomplish always leave a core of character unrevealed. Some people ask who they are and expect visions of their ideal self to tell them. But our visions can only tell us what we want to be, not what we are. Who are we? We are largely who we become through making wise promises and keeping them. When a man takes an oath he's holding his own self in his hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then - he needn't hope to find himself again. Without being bound to the fulfillment of our promises, we would never be able to keep our identities: we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each person's lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocalities'. 'I am he who took that oath' and when we slough off that name, lose that identity, we can hardly find ourselves again."
I nodded along as she read, amicably agreeing with the truth of what she was saying expecting to move effortlessly on to the next section. She stopped though, looked at me and asked me pointedly: "Have there been any decisions or broken promises in your life that have caused you to lose your identity?"
For as long as I've known him I've understood at the very core of my being that my father and I are as unalike as a father and son can be while still finding the ability to love each other. He can create works of art with his hands. I can only feel jealousy and a gnawing sense of unmanliness when I see what he produces. He can throw a baseball or a rock or any object really, with deadly velocity and accuracy. I decidedly cannot and from a young age I resented my father for forcing me to play sports with him and I resented myself for not wanting to play with him. He both revels in and excels at hard, manual labor and his body and reputation have been testaments to that fact. I avoid the hard thing at every turn and have always felt wholly inadequate when I think of his work ethic as compared to mine. He commands respect and admiration from all that meet him. People genuinely seek out his opinion and desire his comfort and care in times of crisis. He's a leader in the truest, most selfless sense of the word. I in turn am only a sad shadow of what my father taught me to be, I want the respect and admiration of others but cheaply. It's easier to manipulate people's feelings into following me than it is to live a life worthy of being followed. Despite those differences he learned to love me and I him and he grew to appreciate and encourage those things that I gained skill in. He found joy in my singing, my swimming and my reading to the point where he set aside his own pleasures and expectations for our relationship and conformed them to mine. Even in those I failed him; my own laziness and desire for comfort took precedence over the full limit of my potential. My father is not driven by feelings or achievements or even visions although he has plenty of all 3 in spades. For all that has separated us and continues to, the widest, deepest most inescapable gulf is that he's driven by character and integrity and I am not. That, above all else, is what I've always felt and known and hated. His ability or perhaps determination to be driven by a thing higher and harder than pleasure, feelings or self-aggrandizement has been been the most important and inescapable difference between us. I felt it from the time I was little and even as a young child it inspired within me an insipid mix of awe, envy and hatred. He keeps his promises and everyone knows it. If he says he will do a thing he does it and to the very best of his ability. He taught me not to take oaths or swear but to simply say 'yes' or 'no'. I pepper my everyday speech with 'To be completely honest with you...'. I rarely am. Above all else he seeks to live a life conformed to truth and integrity despite how it might make others feel. People truly respect him for that. I desire more than anything else to be liked. I am all things to all people and no one can respect that for very long.
Yes Girlfriend, all of them, my whole life. I've always felt it and known it and loathed myself for it. I've lost my identity too many times to count.
Who am I? I am my feelings, I am who I desire to be but am not. I am adrift, tossed about, unmoored by too many broken promises and relationships disregarded. I am not my father. I am sorry.