Real Things My Dad Said & How They Shaped Me As a Therapist
There’s a fascinating thing about parenting which is you have NO idea what’s going to stick. Parents and the people raising children dig deep everyday all over the world to offer the best they have, to give their best effort at offering their child something of worth. As a parent I know now something I could not imagine when my parents were raising me, and that is how inexplicably hard it is to raise a child and have that job everyday all day…forever. What is more confounding is that the reason it is so hard is because as parents we care about our children in a way that is beyond all reason. Understanding more now about how hard my father was working to be a good dad, I want to share with all of you a few things my dad said often and how they shaped me and my world view.
There are no bad people, only bad choices:
This is the foundation, the very core of my known truth as a person and a therapist.
I have an enormous respect for our relationship to our ‘bad choices’, the places we go in ourselves to allow us to make those choices, and the realities we create to attempt to live with those choices.
The other unspoken half of this is that I would be lovable even when I made bad choices. It’s wild how we can say one thing but it echoes many other things as well
You make that outfit look beautiful:
I love clothes. I have as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I’d get dressed and my dad would tell me; ‘you make the dress look beautiful!’. Like many kids I would brush the compliment off, but also like many kids, I was taking it in. I still say this when I compliment kids on their outfit choices. It is so kind and generous, and actually the most true sentiment.
I didn’t have the body shame that most girls and teens have. It literally never occurred to me in my younger life, that my body was anything but a wonderful palace to be. I recall in high school noticing that some girls were smaller, but I was very active and thought: “Well, my body can do everything I like to do, so this must be a good way for my body to be.”
Later in life, I did come into more complicated relationships with my body, which informs my empathy for people in that situation, but that foundation of kindness and generosity around my appearance that those comments offered me has informed my sense of self worth and my own generosity of spirit.
If someone steals something from you they needed it more than you did:
This has landed in several ways. FIrst in the literal sense. There are people who are simply desperate for material things in a way I am not, even in the years of my life when I was on a tight budget or well over my budget just by living. The bigger give here is that idea that even when I am slighted, and I would be justified in being angry, hurt or scared, those things all ease when I think about how someone else felt so small or desperate that they made the choice to do this to me and to themselves.Int hat moment I go from indignation to empathy, safety and connection, which is always going to get more of the life I want. As a therapist this can be a very difficult process, but ultimately part of every process of victimhood has this as some component of it.
Have you ever been wet before? Do you think you’ll ever be wet again?
Wet from the rain. I can not put context to why this would have been said often, but I swear that it was. We would complain that it was raining and we didn’t want to get wet (we didn’t have rain coats and mud boots), and my dad would say; ‘Have you ever been wet before?! Do you think you’ll ever be wet again?! He would say it playfully and with an air of excitement.
From a young age this taught me to question my first response to things, and challenge myself to not just make the best, but to decide how I wanted to frame things. This, as I grew older, supported inquiries into consciousness and the nature of truth and reality. Eventually I came to understand that our preference for comfort is profoundly misguided. I came to see that many of us even have shame around our pain, as if by having pain at all we have somehow failed. I have seen over and over this subtle introject (something we take in as truth without it being directly stated) that if we do life the right way we won’t have pain and therefore, if you have pain, you are not doing life the right way.
Pain, discomfort, confusion, I have found, are not only part of life, they are powerful essential pieces of a life with love and meaning.
So, from the message; don’t worry about getting wet, it’s not really a problem, I heard “don’t worry about the pain and the discomfort. It’s not really a problem, it’s just uncomfortable.
It’ll be an Adventure!
This is what makes my dad my dad y’all. He has said this since I can remember and still says it often. Here are some examples of context:
He lost his wallet in the ocean pre cell phones. No money, no ID, no phone. It’ll be an adventure!!? (He called collect and got money enough to drive home wired to him, it all worked out.)
I decide to drive across the country in a car that has seriously questionable reliability and I’m 22 and have about $200 to my name. “It’ll be an adventure!” (I made it just fine, slept in my car and ate PB&J all the way)
There are many more stories like this, stories of life not working out as we hoped or opportunities appearing to be risky. What I have taken from this is that we can trust ourselves with whatever comes and a positive attitude will make facing those tough things more tenable. He never shames us for a foolish plan, or belittles our dreams. It’s as if he’s thinking: ‘I look forward to seeing how you work this out.’
It is a vote of confidence and it normalizes problems. This has informed my therapy process by allowing me to support people in reframing what looks like a failing or a problem.
This is not the whole picture of course. My father and my relationship with him is complicated like every other thing in life. There have been hurts between us, but these things shine like jewels in the landscape of our relationship. I choose let let them get my attention. I choose this because it is generous to me and to my father. I learned this kind of generosity from him.
Happy Father’s Day however your family looks.