The infinitude of Joy and Sadness

Listen to the sound of me spilling my heart through this pen
-Eminem

I looked in the mirror the other day, and recognized myself.  That isn’t quite right. I looked in the mirror the other day, and I liked what I saw. I’m carrying a few extra pounds, as usual. My hair is thinning in the front, my nose is too big and too hooked and I could go on. I won’t.

I’ve spent years looking at the mirror, asking “what are you going to do?” or “what are you thinking?”. I’ve spent years, asking the mirror “Why aren’t you happy?” or “Why are you doing this to yourself?”. Maybe you know what that feels like. There came a time that I looked in the mirror and my face felt wrong. I felt like I was looking at someone else, a person who’s drives and dreams I couldn’t understand.

In therapy I spent a lot of time talking. I spend a lot of time talking, and in the last two years I’ve gotten to know that person in the mirror. I’ve written, passingly, about manhood before. When I used to look at the face I didn’t recognize, I always felt like a boy. In the mirror I saw a boy, too. The other day I looked in the mirror and felt completely at peace. Looking back at me was a man. He seemed confident, and I knew that finally wasn’t bullshit. I didn’t question him, I knew his face fit me, and I understood his drives and desires.

I’m finally understanding who I actually am, and that is an incredibly comfortable feeling.

Recently, my two and a half year old, Katie, has been asking me, “Daddy, how come you don’t love mama anymore?”.

She asks often. When she asks, I do my best to answer her honestly, and in a way she’ll understand. At two and a half, the concepts we’re discussing are bigger. Bigger than she is, and bigger than I am. I wish I could protect her from them, but it would mean lying to her, and I won’t do that. So I give her my best answer, and I finish by saying “You know, I’ll always love you and your sister. I’m your daddy. That can’t ever change, no matter what. ” She smiles, and hugs me, and every time my heart breaks for her, having to grapple with the idea that love might be impermanent, and possibly fearing that she might lose mine.

Last night her big sister said “Daddy, Katie asks that a lot!” I said, “I think she asks a lot because she doesn’t understand the answer. It’s kind of hard to understand, isn’t it? If she’s still asking then I need to keep trying to help her understand. I want her to know me.”

Katie, a big part of the answer is this: When I was with your mother, I wasn’t content within myself. I wasn’t living any of my life, I was skipping the moments that comprise it because I was unhappy and I didn’t want to be in them. It wasn’t something I could change. I did what I could to change it, but it didn’t matter. No matter how hard I prayed, how skinny I got, how far I ran or how hard I drank or how much I gamed, I didn’t find peace. It was preventing me from connecting with you, and your sister.

The rote Christian solution to the problem of internal conflict or pain is, “Give it to God. ” And now I will tell you a blasphemy. I tell it in hopes that it will make you a more whole person: Running to anything, including gods and faith, is a way of running away from yourself. To know yourself, you will confront your darkness, your fear and your shame. You’ll also find the truth, or the lie, behind your pride and your confidence, which may be harder.

When you’ve done this, you won’t be without flaws, but you’ll probably understand most of them. You’ll be more connected to your emotions and you’ll know the woman in the mirror. You’ll be able to connect more fully to the family and friends you have, and you’ll be less afraid.

You will feel deeply. The last few years have left me with regrets, I feel them always. I want to give you and your sister everything that it is possible to give. I want you to have what is in your best interests. I don’t want to hurt you. I found the choices I was left with impossible, I didn’t see a path that wouldn’t cause you pain, so I chose the path that I hoped would give you the best chance. I want you to be whole, I want to be whole so you might know what it means to be whole.

The last few years have also left me with a lot of happiness. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and of the man I am. I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I’m a better parent than I knew I could be. You and your sister make it so easy. I adore you both. The time we’ve spent together has been this incandescent, living thing. We are alive, and that is pure beauty. I am not sad when you’re not with me but I am always sad when you’re not with me. Does that make sense?

At bedtime, Abby called me into the room and asked me what I was doing. I said I was exercising and she asked why. I said, “Because I want to be strong for you and your sister. So I can take care of you. ” It’s true. And it’s the reason I face my past, and meet my demons, and accept the parts of me that I don’t like. I am driven on your behalf. I know I’ve reaped benefits from this desire to be a better man, and I hope you’ll benefit from who I’ve become, too.

That’s all I can hope. That whatever pain and uncertainty I’ve caused you will be overridden by the love I bear for you, and by the things I can teach you about being a human.

I hope that I can help you understand how to accept life, how to find your place in the infinitude of joy and sadness, and how to become love.

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4 Responses to The infinitude of Joy and Sadness

  1. Kristi November 13, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Beautiful.

    When is your book going to be done? :-)

    Seriously though, not many people have the strength to recognize unhappiness and try and fix it. Even though it’s hard, it must be done to make all the rest of the people around you happy too.

  2. kristi November 14, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    I don’t know how I ran across your website, but so glad that I did. Every time I read a new post I’m grateful for your perspective and deep love for your girls. Thanks for putting it out there for others to experience and feel not so alone.

  3. Jon November 16, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    A favorite ee poem:

    look
    my fingers, which
    touched you
    and your warmth and crisp
    littleness
    -see? do not resemble my
    fingers. My wrists hands
    which held carefully the soft silence
    of you (and your body
    smile eyes feet hands)
    are different
    from what they were. My arms
    in which all of you lay folded
    quietly, like a
    leaf or some flower
    newly made by Spring
    Herself, are not my
    arms. I do not recognise
    as myself this which i find before
    me in a mirror. i do
    not believe
    i have ever seen these things;
    someone whom you love
    and who is slenderer
    taller than
    myself has entered and become such
    lips as i use to talk with,
    a new person is alive and
    gestures with my
    or it is perhaps you who
    with my voice
    are
    playing.

  4. Scott Pearson December 13, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    All I really wanted to do as your father was help you keep safe all that great stuff your mother built into you, safe especially from myself. I did an okay job, I think. And in the last year or two I see proof of that. I don’t know what share of your problems have been an inheritance from me. I’ve been happy to see that wherever they came from you took them on as *I* would like to think I could have. If I had been the better parts of me, the way you have protected and nurtured the better parts of you.

    I think when we “give it to God” we’re more or less trying to say, “here is the real mess of me, please help.” And I think he takes it, agrees with you it’s a real mess, and hands it back, not actually saying, “Okay, now what are you going to do about it?” When I seek his aid, what I find he gives me is a chance to be honest. A lot of chances really, as many as it takes. And he lets me lie to him…like that has any effect…because it’s really just lying to myself as if I was lying to him, until I get tired of it. And his tacit question hangs there, “So now what are you going to do about it?”

    I do believe that, in those bad times, if I ask him, he makes it just as easy to do the right thing, as to do the thing I have instead done most of my life. And the other thing I really believe that this post of yours compels me to say is that it really is Love that conquers all. Because it multiplies. Sadness is arithmetic. Joy is multiplicative. That’s one way you can recognize it…it doesn’t just sit around, it does stuff. It grows.

    Your Mother may never be able to fill the holes in her heart. But she didn’t build them into yours. She built in some leaks, I think. But not holes. Then again, nobody’s ever finished. The seas are rough, and we’re not perfect vessels. So there’s that.

    But you’ve done all *we* can hope, and you keep doing it. We see the mighty blessings your Love blankets those girls with. And like the warm sea of love your Mother raised you deep inside of, the unassailable truth of your love will anchor their souls upright.

    They’re going to have anguish as we all do. But I think you’re living out the ways of growing, that will guide them through repairs, as they have call for it.

    I am always a little surprised at how you keep doing new things that make me proud of you, and confident of our girls future happiness.

    Thanks Son.

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