Mourning
7 September, 2015

When I first discovered the degree to which abuse permeated, and permeates, my family of origin, I felt compelled to share with my closest friends. I think there were several reasons for this. Telling the story aloud helped me process what I had discovered. I was trying to consciously utilize a support system. But I think most importantly I was dragging the evil into the light, no longer allowing it to hide.

I have no regret over that decision but I must admit that it contributed to the loss of two friends. Certainly it was not the only factor in what is perhaps the natural drifting apart of friends. But it was definitely a significant factor. While I accept no blame for it, I am still mourning the loss of those friendships.

Not everyone is prepared or capable of handling the personal knowledge of sadistic abuse. While a person can be compassionate, and even wise, regarding familial dysfunction, there is a salient difference between the abuse happening in general and the abuse happening in specific. Based on previous conversations, I misjudged some of my friend’s ability to withstand such information. I doubt there were any conscious decisions on their part; I think it was just too much to handle.

Other friendships deepened as a result of my sharing my burden and I have discovered a new brother-from-another-mother. So in one sense my attempt to strengthen my support system succeeded. But I still miss those other friends.

Loyalty
5 October, 2014

If asked to pick a single character trait that I found most important in a person, I am unsure of what I would pick, even after some pondering. After aquatic contemplation, the word that keeps returning to the forefront of my mind is loyalty.

That I respond to loyalty assuredly follows directly out of the marked lack of loyalty during my childhood. As a child I was neither mature nor experienced enough to distinguish between the one adult who was truly loyal to me, the few adults who notionally loyal to me, and the abusers who were loyal only to evil. Rather than admit to the evil, of course they spoke of their loyalty, along with their piety, their holiness, and their righteousness.

While it took me decades to be able to name their iniquity, it only took me a few times before I recognized that their actions were never in my best interest. I suppose people can be loyal to things and I was definitely treated like a thing but I was a thing to be used and then discarded. Before I had the vocabulary to describe it, I had learned that I needed to be useful if I was to survive. That still feels nothing like loyalty to me.

Which is not to say that I was completely ignored. While that is abuse in its own right, I felt that it would have been preferable and did everything I could to be ignored. Instead, like the nail that stands up, I was beaten back into place. From this I learned that they were loyal, just not to me. Rather, they were loyal to the abusers and their abuse.

I have seen loyalty misused but I would still rather be loyal.

Self-Improvement through Self-Awareness
29 June, 2014

I can be perhaps too willing to take a beating. I am also susceptible to worrying. So it comes as no surprise that I am anxious that I take damage unnecessarily.

Around my twelfth summer, I spent a few weeks with my cousins at their hot, dry place in the desert. One day the neighbor kids mounted a watery attack on us. We counterattacked, of course, but they had us outgunned. The neighbors’ crew-served weapon (garden hose) had us pinned down behind a car. Our supply of grenades (water balloons) was perilously low. While my cousins debated strategy, I did what I figured any good Marine would do: I charged the enemy. Alas, the ferocity of my attack did not carry the day.

During the debriefing (lunch) my older cousin inquired into what particular mental handicap made me think charging their fortifications was a good idea. As I saw it, we were pinned down with no way out. Someone had to do something and, if not me, then who? (My therapist says that it is common for survivors of trauma to think that way.) The enemy had an unlimited supply of ammo and someone needed to change the equation for us to have a chance. (Of course, it would have worked a lot better if I had thought to coordinate with my cousins for them to attack while I drew the fire…)

Now that a few fortnights have passed since I left a particularly unhealthy situation, I naturally turn in the spirit of hansei to assessing what went wrong. In particular, I worry that I contributed to my own mistreatment. Others familiar with the situation insist that I in no way contributed and I am willing to forgo blaming myself. But I do see how certain traits of who I am came into play throughout the duration.

I suppose I must admit that I am willing to take damage to accomplish a goal, to trade hard work for achievement, and to sacrifice myself to defend others. Whether those character traits are strengths or weaknesses depends on the situation. Only by maintaining an awareness of them can I hope to maneuver around the situations where they are weaknesses.

You Can’t Handle the Truth
26 May, 2014

The concept of loving yourself is like a Möbius strip to me. I understand how the trick works but it is still just a trick. It is an artificial construct that has value in considering certain properties of reality. But it does not arise spontaneously.

I see the benefit to a person being their own biggest fan. I also see the benefit to a person believing that they can fly but there are also certain costs associated with that belief. Given that people are nowhere near that big of a fan of me, and spend quite a bit of time telling me what I am doing wrong, it seems the height of arrogance to discount everyone else’s assessments.

I can get into a place where I bear more than a passing resemblance to the Col. Jessup character. I think that is in large part due to spending decades feeling like I was alone in hostile territory. When the stakes are high, you simply can not afford to take your performance lightly. Anything less than perfection can result in death.

I am not perfect. I never have been and never will be. All that I can do is continue to work on getting better.

Be Nice Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice
13 April, 2014

Unsurprisingly given the combat zone of my childhood, I have a strong aversion to conflict. Being an unarmed child around an adult who flies into a murderous rage over the smallest thing trains you to avoid all confrontation. It is literally a survival skill.

But I think that there are strong reasons for people to avoid conflict most of the time. We all live in a world of finite resources, time being the most precious, and perhaps most finite, of all. The mathematics just works out that conflict will eventually arise. One way to avoid the conflict is to increase the resource in question, either by becoming more efficient in its use or by producing more of it.

Another way to avoid conflict is to simply yield to the other person. A fellow with whom I once worked says that the key to a successful marriage is two words: “Yes, dear.” His philosophy is that there is very little that is worth a fight with your partner. Two decades of marriage has borne out his thinking.

I can certainly take that too far and not protect my own interests as much as I ought. It has been a lifelong struggle to speak up sooner and not let it get to the point where I explode. But each and every time I have to enforce my own boundaries, to ensure that I get what I deserve, I am smothered with anxiety.

I literally have no idea how the other person will take it. Normal people have a good (although never perfect) prediction for how the other side in the conflict will respond. I, on the other hand, am surprised every time someone does not fly into a murderous rage.

Smile When You Say That
2 September, 2013

A friend of mine recently described me to someone else as happy, not as a temporary reaction to a specific event but as a continual state. I am not sure whether such a description makes me unhappy. But I have reservations about its accuracy.

Another friend of mine once said that I work very hard at being happy. I would certainly own that assessment. I have no memories before my dad’s death but the twenty years after it had very little happiness indeed. Sadness was the dominant emotion of the first quarter-century of my life. Since I do not especially enjoy being sad, I definitely work hard at being happy. Even simple decisions like routes to commute or movies to watch are driven in part by trying to be as happy as possible.

Humor has always been my primary coping mechanism. (I am learning that it need not be my sole coping mechanism.) Given the amount of loss and terror in my younger years, it is unsurprising that my humor can be somewhat black at times. Maybe this is too fine a distinction but my humor at the darkness seeks not to celebrate it but to drive it back. I would love to live in a world without loss and sadness and terror. But until that happens I continue to try to improve the little bit right around me.

Even though it contradicts my belief about myself, I have to accept others’ perceptions of me. Maybe being a happy person is not what you are but what you do. Perhaps the fact that I work so hard at being happy is why I qualify as a happy person.

Working Hard or Hardly Working
21 July, 2013

One of my coworkers made a statement last week that disturbed me. They opined that there should be no personal talk whatsoever at work and any such should not count toward the eight-hour-per-day minimum. Said coworker further recommended, if someone at work asked about one’s weekend, always responding with “fine” to discourage any followup jibber-jabber. I quite disagree with all that.

Admittedly I was raised in a polite society and in a family of origin where any misstep was severely punished. I would not be surprised if I am more sensitive to interpersonal niceties than the average bloke. (I think there is evidence that I am more sensitive in general.) However, I still hazard that most people would consider someone whose only words to them were to request some service to be at least a cold fish if not something of a dick.

I believe that all good teams have a personal connection between their members. I have no titular authority so my ability to influence others is entirely dependent on the strength of our connection. Of course, doing nothing but prattling and gossiping all day serves neither the team nor the task at hand. My experience shows that, within the context of any given endeavor, the strategic goals are accomplished better and quicker with a good rapport built with the tactical application of personal interaction.

One of my basic tenets is that everyone is a person who deserves to be heard. Life is short and too often ends with little warning. I take professional pride in doing a good job. But I would rather be remembered for how much I cared than how much I worked.

Boogie Nights
31 March, 2013

I often use the generalization that I can not dance. It is a generalization because it may not be strictly true depending on how one defines dancing. It is definitely true if one defines dancing in the freeform style that accompanies North American, popular music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is probably false if one defines dancing to include the haka. I would go so far as to say that I can only dance with words. If you have read much of this blog, you will probably have formed strong opinions about that dancing.

I first remember hearing the idea that martial arts are a form of dance in The Last Dragon. I can not dispute that some martial arts are a form of dance, especially in the face of capoeria. But, unless one defines dance in terms so broad as to be useless, not all martial arts are dance. In particular, none of the martial arts that I find interesting are a form of dance.

Despite my artistic nature, I see no reason to dance. This is not to say that I see no reason for anyone to dance. One of our friends is a dance teacher and that is a fine thing to be. Her husband’s sister is a professional dancer and that is also a fine thing to be. But for me, personally, there is no reason to dance.

More generally, I see no reason to embarrass myself and dancing is a strict subset of embarrassing myself. It turns out that I am quite accomplished at embarrassing myself without dancing. If you have read much of this blog, you will already know that.

Not So Timid
24 February, 2013

A management course taught one of my coworkers, a big bloke, to stand sideways in someone’s doorway to avoid making them feel trapped and intimidated. (The rule has an informal name based on an executive who is both big and prone to blocking doorways.) I have not paid much attention to my positioning in doorways but I suspect that I avoid blocking them instinctively. It may be something of a cliché, but I am the sort who prefers to sit with my back in a corner and where I can see the exits. I address each room as if I will have to fight my way out of it.

It would be dishonest to say that I do not wish to be intimidating. I do like to be intimidating, but only in certain circumstances. The problem is that I seem to be intimidating when I wish not to be, but not when I wish to be. My eldest referred to me as “Scary Dad” when I was merely being stern. Yet I have had crazy ladies step up on me. While I think of myself as a nice guy and like to be perceived as such by others, I also want people to avoid attacking me.

I recognize the contradiction of those positions. A couple decades of having no one respect my boundaries gave me the instinct to create those boundaries with menace. I did not learn to use my words to enforce my boundaries because my family of origin ignored both my words and my boundaries. Rather I learned that the only way to enforce a boundary was by releasing the beast within. This was quite surprising for others, most of whom both expected me to use my words and had no experience with that level of fury.

My goal is to never need to be actively intimidating. I work hard to not be intimidating, to be sensitive to those as might feel threatened by my size or demeanor. Through years of work, I am learning to use my words and modulate my responses. But, to be honest, if I had to choose between being intimidating but respected and not being intimidating but disrespected, I would choose the respect, even though it came with the intimidation. Apparently I have more work to do.

Pater Ineptus
17 February, 2013

I rarely feel successful as a parent. I feel contentment at my kids being protected and nurtured. But in no way do I feel a sense of accomplishment. On the best days I feel relief that they are flourishing in spite of me. On the worst days I feel shame that they are suffering because of me.

Along with software jedi and husband, I consider parent to be one of my three jobs. (That I keep forgetting to list taking care of myself as a fourth is telling.) My standards for being a parent are as strict as those that I have for my other jobs. Like all children, the experiences of mine reflect the experiences of their parents’ childhood. Unfortunately, my childhood had a pronounced paucity of good experiences.

Recently I stated that I do not know what normal is. A friend disputed me, saying that I know normal but just never experienced it. With respect for his opinion, I most certainly have no experience with normal parenting and hazard that I do know even know what it is. As with most things, I endeavor to compensate for this lack with hard work.

So I fake it, with a smile when possible. Perhaps all parents feign competence and I am just whining. I would be heartbroken if other parents felt as incompetent as I do but were content with it. I must believe that they care as much as I do, but are just so much better at parenting than I am.

I have no idea what success as a parent would feel like. My kids say they are happy with the job I am doing. But I said the same things as a child when I was markedly unhappy. By the time my performance can be truly assessed, it will be too late. I guess my success is that I have never quit.