UH oh, uh oh, too big, TOO BIG!!!
My mind reels at the thought of picking one thing my Dad said that influences me! I could write a whole book about his subtle , even covert teachings.
Oh wait. I DID!
I have 52, still to be edited, chapters (short stories really) about something my Dad said or did that is still with me today. For the purpose of this challenge I will start with this.
When I was growing up, and there was conflict with my sisters, we of course would try to get Dad to solve it for us (which really meant “take sides”).
He would quietly listen to tales of woe and blame…and then, as if he had just thought of it and never ever said it before, he would say “Hmmm, Well, that’s one way to look at it…”
Period. That’s all. No solutions. No votes for one side or the other. Nothing. The implacable silence following his casual-seeming comment, I interpreted as lack of love clear into my adulthood.
But now, that sentiment is interwoven throughout my experiences, my calling.
Those words from him have fueled and inspired my stance in life. I am on a mission to teach and model for others, that we each have options about how we view things. And that it’s not just a choice, but a responsibility, to see things, especially in a conflict, from as many perspectives as we can confirm or imagine.
Thus Chosen Perspectives.
Here’s one of the Chapters (stories) I mentioned above. I feel very vulnerable sharing it so would appreciate any comments you are willing to make. You don’t have to like the story. Any kind of feedback is valuable. I would like to know if you read it. I’d so appreciate your “perspective”.
The “Ruler” and the Torn Screen or One Square foot
“To this garden we were given
And always took for granted
It’s like my Daddy told me, ‘You just bloom where you’re planted’
We long to be delivered from this world of pain and strife.
That’s a sorry substitution for a spiritual life.” Don Henley- “Inside Job”
“Give a child an inch and he’ll think he’s a ruler.” Sam Levenson
When I was newly eleven years old, I decided to sneak out one night to meet my two of my friends. To achieve this daring escape, I had to tear the screen on my bedroom window.
Oh, I had my adventure alright. My fellow delinquents and I caroused a whole square block in quiet little Pacific Beach. We were MIA for a couple of hours, doing the classic deviant things of our generation…for Girl Scouts anyway. We stole pomegranates from a tree whose branches hung way out into the alley making them public property, right? And we creeped into one grouchy neighbor’s back yard to see baby bunnies in a homemade cage. This guy refused to let us see these precious fluff balls during the day time, matters into our own hands and all….
Almost sunrise, I came home triumphant but exhausted and forgot all about repairing the damage to the screen…..not that I could have fixed it anyway.
Of course, I was caught. My mother discovered it that same morning and boy, was she was pissed. I hadn’t thought to close my curtains to hide what she later called my “willful and thoughtless destruction of property”. When she found it, she didn’t say a word but I knew I was busted by how she glared at me. She was a silent seether.
Then, my Mom woke my Dad, only a couple of hours into his post graveyard-shift slumber. She insisted that he deliver my punishment…a spanking…unheard of in our household, and at eleven years old….I thought “Give me a break. Never gonna happen”.
But my extremely shy and pacifist father was apparently more invested in pleasing my mother than I had realized. Her explicit direction to him was to spank me for the torn screen. The sneaking out in the middle of the night part was completely ignored, a fact that bothered me for years.
I will never forget the look on my father’s face as he slowly entered my room and closed my door. He looked chagrined but also resigned. I was shocked that he was actually considering carrying out this task set upon him by his wife….completely out of character for him.
My Dad had never touched me in anger or punishment or, for that matter, even in love. We addressed this last much later. When I was in my forties, my sisters and I finally taught him how to hug us. It was visibly painful at first, but it finally grew on him.
But when I was eleven, he sat down on the very edge of my bed and then mumbled something about bending over his knee, the whole thing so surreal to me that I complied without question or reaction.
His swing was simultaneously swift but also slowed by some imaginary obstacle, like slapping his hand through a two foot thick barrier of Jell-O. From my vulnerable position, the approach of his hand made the expected whoosh through the air, but contact with my waiting butt never happened. He tried twice but could not quite muster the actual blow.
Then he startled me by smacking my bed, twice, and loudly. I was absolutely surprised but definitely not injured.
When I stood up and we were face to face, he didn’t speak a word but in a rare moment of slightly prolonged and very direct eye contact (seriously…my Dad was shy) he conveyed to me ‘Please don’t tell your mother”. I read his look loud and clear…..and played my silently assigned part to the hilt. I cried real (but exaggerated) tears for quite a while, making sure my mother saw and heard me. I was furious with her but I don’t think I had never felt so loved by my Dad.
One of my childhood friends was named Mary Lou Reichel. She lived two doors down and sometimes I was invited to go on adventures with her family. They had a big motor boat and I went Marlin fishing with them. They did so many things, even attending church….all together. They were Catholic. Mary Lou and her big brother even went to the parochial school. Mr. Reichel was very strict and the mom very quiet and religious. I loved their family. They were so different from my own and I longed for my parents to assume their proper stereotypical positions like Mr. and Mrs. Reichel.
I remember so clearly a reaction Mary Lou had to my Dad one sunny Sunday afternoon.
We were hanging out in my front yard while Dad worked on the car. I was complaining to him about how bored I was and why couldn’t he take us for ice cream or to the beach or…whine, whine, whine. He just looked at me, a familiar look so I knew what was coming next. But Mary Lou froze and held her breath. It was as if she knew the very words my Dad would say next, and she was exactly right. With a faintly apologetic sigh, he said, “Go get the ruler.”
Mary Lou’s reaction puzzled me. Her eyes widened, panic on my behalf all over her face, and her shoulders went up to her ears. “Go get the ruler” meant something so different to her and I know now she had regularly been on the receiving end of a Ruler Whap…on her knuckles from the nuns at her school and her father had broken several yard sticks over her bare bottom. Later that afternoon, she actually cried and whispered to me, as if her father two doors down might hear, how she wished her Dad was as nice as mine. Grass is always greener, huh?
I had envied her father taking her to church all the time. The sum total of religious teaching I received from mine was this.
“Boredom is a sin.”
So when my Dad, a consummate and camouflaged spiritual teacher, said “Go get the ruler”, here’s what he meant.
Take the ruler and some chalk or a pencil and mark off one square foot of surface…on anything….the car, the wall, the grass, and my personal favorite, the sidewalk in front of our house.
Then, he told me to stare at it until I found something miraculous. That’s it.
Do you have any idea how much life there is in one square foot of Southern California lawn? Weeds, pill bugs, itty bitty daisy-like flowers, rocks, the marble I lost last summer, caterpillars, and always, about one thousand ants. And I was convinced the sidewalk was filled with flecks of pure gold. (I bet this is why I so enjoy Macro Photography!!!
It would occupy my sisters and me for hours. We were inspired to start collections. It gave us stimulating stories to tell and write. We built complete little towns with the gathered natural debris from neighboring square foots….and this was just from the grass. The lathe and plaster walls in our house held scenes filled with animal shapes. Our brown shag carpet was jam-packed with faces. The sidewalk became a canvas for colored chalk. One time I used a square foot of beach towel and a magnifying glass to get a good look at what terry cloth really is. (That was the same time I learn about the fire starting power of a magnifier!)
It took me many years to choose between Mary Lou’s perspective and mine about my father. I had seen my Dad as distant and cold, not really caring that much about me… not that he was mean. I always did the things he suggested; “Close your eyes and count five sounds”, “Name five smells in the air right now”, “Where did all those tadpoles go?” “What happened to the Polliwogs we saw just last week?” And “Why is our favorite pond now filled with tiny frogs?”
And I enjoyed the adventurous outings he would provide. The bustle and commotion in a single square foot of tide pool is truly amazing.
Just five blocks from our house they were excavating deep into a hillside in preparation for a new subdivision of homes. My Dad knew this would be a once in a life time opportunity so he packed up the tool box and took us there on the weekends when all the big machinery was silent. Our tools were our beach buckets, some old paint brushes, the fancy grapefruit spoons (“Don’t tell your mother”), and of course, the ruler. I still have beautiful and amazing fossils from those expeditions.
When I was young, I thought my father was just weird, but now, I see him through Mary Lou’s longing eyes. He was a gentle, loving, unassuming and brilliant Master Parent and Spiritual Guide. Completely out of our awareness, he was training us to be biologists, artists, ecologists, archaeologists, maybe even Buddhists.
As I look back now, I can only imagine what that “spanking” over the torn screen must have cost him.
V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #40: Things My Father Said*