I told her that it doesn’t have to be so hard.
I told her that it can just be easy, that she can just be easy. That life is good. That she has a lot to be happy about.
But she just kept crying.
She told me that she was sad.
She told me that she was hungry. She told me that she didn’t want to eat. She told me through her sobs that she was happy. She told me that she didn’t want to turn five and that she didn’t want to be little. She told me that she missed her Yeye, that she just wanted to be alone, that she needed to be with someone.
I hugged her and told her to just breathe, in and out, slowly, like she does in yoga. I told her that she didn’t need to be sad.
She told me it was her body that was telling her to be sad.
I told her that she was powerful and she could control how her body felt and that all of this noise wasn’t going to solve her problems.
She told me that I didn’t understand.
She told me a lot of things. And she was right – I didn’t understand.
What I was really telling her was that it wasn’t okay to feel the way she did. What she was really telling me was to just shut up and listen.
I have a lot of expectations as a father. I expect to be able to communicate with my daughters and impart what little wisdom I have gleaned from my own life and to show them how to flow through life. I expect them to listen and to use their words to solve their problems and to just try.
As a man who is trying to find my own way through all of this, I try not to have expectations. I have found that expectations lead to disappointment and suffering. Life happens. There isn’t anything I can do about things that are outside of my control, which is to say that other than my own choices I have no choice. I can walk my path armed with kindness and consideration, with positive eyes and an open heart, but to the moments that are beyond my reach I must surrender. I try not to worry – it’s a waste of energy.
And now I am discovering this disconnect that I have between how I am as a father and how I want to be as a man is creating a disconnect between my daughters and me.
What seems like a lifetime ago, before I was a dad, I went to school to learn how to be a teacher. Driven into my brain was the idea that high expectations result in high achievement. This seemed pretty logical to me and I held onto that view as I muddled through a short and stuttered life as a teacher of sorts. It also blended well with what I believed was in my nature. I was rigid in my own thoughts, slow to compromise, and an unwavering set of expectations followed me into the classroom and then back out into my life. If you didn’t do as I said there were consequences and if you didn’t believe as I believed you were an idiot. I was young and black and white worked for me then. I didn’t ever have to admit that I was wrong.
As the chapters in my story paged by, I mellowed, as most do. I started to see the shades of grey that give all of our stories color and life. I gained perspective and I learned how to be wrong in order to learn what was right for me wasn’t right for everyone.
When I became a father, though, I somehow forgot to unlearn the lessons I had been taught about unyielding expectations. I remember thinking how useful all of that stuff from all of those books about education and child psychology and child development would be in the coming years staying home to raise my one, then two, daughters. It would be great, I thought. I’ll hang on to these books, I thought. A readymade parental library, I thought.
Though, my daughters, as it turns out, are not in any of the indexes.
The theory of high expectations becoming high achievement may or may not be a useful one in a classroom. Honestly, I really don’t care either way. I am not a teacher anymore – I am a father. And while teacher may be one of the hats that I wear with my girls, it is not the only or the most important one. And we don’t live in a classroom.
Trying to be the best person I can be has allowed me to let go of expectations. Sitting here reflecting on it all, I find it bizarre that I have, as a father, continued to hold onto them for my daughters when I don’t hold onto them for myself. If expectations are not healthy or productive towards a happy life for me then how in the hell can they be for them? I am nearly forty years old and as I am beginning to free myself of these burdens, I am still saddling my children with them.
Those sobs will happen again, many times over, and she will tell me again that she feels sad. She will, through wet eyes and heavy breaths, say things that don’t make sense to my adult mind. And I’m sure in those moments that I will think I should solve it for her.
But she doesn’t need me to solve her problems for her. I don’t know if that desire to solve her problems is a man thing or an adult thing or a me thing, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I allow her to be who she is and where she is, right now and right here, without me burdening her with my expectations. What she needs is for me to create for her a safe place, one that is filled with love and acceptance, not conformity. What I want her to do or what I expect her to be is my problem, not hers. But if I put all of that on her then it becomes her problem – one that I created.
This is a wonderful and difficult thing, this parenthood. I have learned so much already. And I expect I have so much more to learn.