Recently I had a conversation with a friend. He’s 35, and he called to ask me if I was seeing a therapist. I replied, “Not this week, what’s up?”
He said, “Oh I just thought that if you were then you could recommend one to me.”
I decided to probe further because on the outside — key point — this guy looked as if he had it made. Great wife, a baby on the way, high-end SUV and cool digs. I said, “Aren’t you just getting nervous because you’re about to become a dad?”
He said, “No, I think something is really wrong with me, because nothing brings me joy.”
I said, “Not even the prospect of having a baby?”
He said, “Yeah, I’m excited about that, because it will be really neat to hang out with my kid and play ball, and experience all of the firsts of everything that he or she will get to do, like for example- going to Disneyland for the first time.”
My immediate reaction was to go on Amazon and buy all of the parenting books available and ship them to his house. Even the sound in his voice was different from the last time we had talked. He had no ummph at all. He actually sounded joy-less.
I knew from his past that his childhood was less than stellar. No overt abuse, just your salad bar assortment of parents divorcing when he was 5, tossed with father abandonment issues and a narcissistic mother and then for added flavor: a pinch of manic depression. And I’m just talking about the mom and dad.
Personally I think his mom was never comfortable in the role of mother; so it wasn’t surprising to me that now as he faced one of the most important and defining moments of his life — the birth of his child — his mind was in overdrive.
And since I’ve known him for years I knew what was going through his head. He had shared with me that his mom had a penchant for endless diatribes about what he didn’t do versus anything he did accomplish. And in my opinion this was the driving catalyst contributing to his conflicted feelings and his ongoing journey for validation.
His story reminded me of another one. There was this lady I met at my friend’s party for her granddaughter’s birthday, though to this day I haven’t the foggiest idea of what compelled my friend to include this loon in her circle. Later I found out that it was because she felt sorry for the gal’s kid and tried to include her any way she could. I was painfully placed at the same table that this lady was sitting at and I swear no less than five times her daughter tried to ask her mom something and she would barely acknowledge her with little more than, “ I told you to stop talking, shh-shh, be quiet!”
When the girl was finally able to finish her sentence it became quite clear to me that she had a speech isue. I believe to this day that after years of hearing her mother basically telling her to “shut up” that her anxiety over “just wanting and trying to be heard” finally took a different course and she ended up with a speech impediment.
So I guess that mom never read the wonderful poem by Dorothy Law Nolte that “Children Learn What They Live.” I hope her daughter finds someone who will “hear what she has to say.”
Back to my 30-something friend who was in crisis mode and calling me for advice.
He felt that he couldn’t talk to his mother because every time he poured his heart out to her he felt worse. And then he told me that he kept going back to her thinking the next time it would be different and like clockwork it would happen all over again.
I told him that the reason he keeps going to his mother is because it’s familiar. I relayed the “Bear Hugs Kettle” story. I reminded him that nothing has really changed in the 30-plus years that he has talked to her. Which is not to say that this lady is bad, she’s just not the person you should go to when you need your spirits lifted. And I told him that one day he will come to this decision by himself and he will learn that what she has to say is inconsequential to his well-being.
I said, “I understand what you are going through, everything just seems so fast nowadays.” There are instant makeovers, instant millionaires, instant marriages — well over eight episodes anyway. Just look at the show “The Brothelette,” ooops I mean “The Bachelorette,” you get to suhwing your partner round and round and end up with another. We have instant pop stars, instant 400 movie channels at your fingertips, instant messaging. We are Willy Wonka’s dream come true; our lives have become one giant Everlastinggobbstopper!
Suddenly there was silence on the other end of the phone. I wondered if he’d hung up? And then I heard him take a deep breath; you know, the kind you take for air when you’ve been laughing really hard. And then I knew that maybe this was just a case of the I’m-going-to-be-a-parent-jitters, nothing that a good sense of humor couldn’t fix. I paused for a moment and said, “So laughter really IS the best medicine?”
And he said, “I think so, thank you.”
I told him he could nurture his inner child, give him the hug he needs. I continued, “You can re-parent yourself as you raise your child. And remember it is your job to make sure you and your wife provide the tools your child will need to succeed in life. After all, one day there will be a time when your little chickadee will leave your nest with that proverbial ‘toolbox.’ But there will be one very important item that is not inside that box, for it is found deep within. It is their heart and they will take that with them on their journey and it is very important they know how to keep it safe from harm, to keep it warm, but most of all they will need to learn how to give it willingly and lovingly to another generation.”
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.