Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas is Coming

It probably shows how shallow I am that a television show got me to thinking about my father recently. A recent episode of Criminal Minds featured a young woman struggling with why she didn’t hate her father--a serial killer. My father was far (far) from a serial killer. Still, he wasn’t a good father in many ways and the show got me to wondering about what kind of people the script writers are and whether it’s them or me that’s badly flawed.

My dad got the basics down: we all got fed, and educated and shown the world and ended up with good work ethics, not to mention a pretty good genetic heritage: he lived to 96, and his sister is still going strong at 97. Without doubt, he shaped my personality in powerful ways, mostly because a lot of who I am is based on “I don’t want to be THAT.” It turns out, when you listen to other people, that’s not how most of them talk about their parents. It’s not my aspiration for how my children think about me. Still, much of who I am, if I’m honest, was shaped by him.

The TV character felt guilty for still loving her father who had done terrible things. Yet, as portrayed, still loved the father part, while not liking the serial killer part. Either that’s nuts or I’m not very evolved, or both. My dad outlived his relationship with several of his seven children and left other relationships in bad repair with residual damage. I maintained a relationship with him all his life for the most selfish of reasons, which is admittedly ironic, since his overriding personal relationship characteristic was selfishness. My selfish reasons were to think well of myself and my conduct toward him. Dealing with him required great boundaries, which is in many ways the foundation of my professional life. So I owe him much, but still would be hard pressed to go much farther than that. I’m still contemplating what that means in the big picture.

One core contemplation leads to others, and the one that’s at the top of the stack is what our recent travels have revealed about the overall balance of this new life of mine. At home and even when I travel alone, the tradeoffs are not as apparent as they become when traveling with Michael. He is a venturer. Together, we have always been goers-and-seers when we’re in new places. We have pretty catholic tastes, so we generally include a wide range of things to do and places to see.

The last three short trips we’ve taken, though, compressed as they were, threw into high relief how much this version of life requires a retreat to silence to pay for being out in the world. When we were in Sarasota, we’d read ahead about some things we wanted to explore, and never got to any of them. At the time, I just attributed it to the gloriously beautiful weather and the enticing swimming pool at the hotel when we spent most of a day just enjoying the sun (well, he always lurks in the shade) and the water. It felt decadently wonderful, though a bit like we were playing hooky, since we didn’t get out to see the museum or any of the local character.

The next two trips, though, led to the thought that perhaps that wonderful day wasn’t the aberration it had seemed: in both of those, the balance of adventuring and cocooning was the same, heavily weighted to cocooning after getting the work done. That got me to assessing my daily life, which has fallen into a routine, but one that is radically more home based than ever before. It’s a good life, happy, comfortable and most of all, functional. It’s just different than my self-image and it’s requiring thought. An even bigger question in my mind is the change in Michael's quality of life. If he doesn't venture because of my limits, how much does that cost him, over the long run?

While mulling that, I’m toting up the balance sheet and it otherwise looks pretty good: the end of travel for the year means I’m back in the regime that leads to gradual weight loss, and after a long plateau, the number is steadily drifting down again. The book draft is still percolating along and the new approach seems potentially promising. Baseline commitments seem more doable, once this week is over because, then, it’s time for Christmas. We’re having a two-day site visit for our ethics resource center this week, and that will take (is taking) a lot of energy. There will be a day or so of end-of-semester mop up, and then, done! I’m looking forward to it. A lot.

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