Influence

You probably don’t know this, but you are fast becoming my greatest influence. Before you bask in the assumed flattery that might imply, let me explain: I’ve learned many things about who I don’t want to be – about how I won’t treat others – from what I’ve watched you do and what I’ve heard you say.

There’s a quote that I read once, and it stuck with me…

“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

— Clarence Budington Kelland

I don’t know this Clarence fellow, but I think he has it right. Everything I’ve witnessed has profoundly shaped the woman – the parent – I’m becoming.

I’ve watched you poke holes in the shroud of trust that blankets a marriage. Each little untruth – those omissions and equivocations so often hovering – has eaten away the fiber’s strength like moths left uncontrolled in the house. And the holes have been increasing.

Notice here that I didn’t say there was holiness – at least not in the presumed form. Call it a homonym to say “holy,” it’s got little to do with God.

I can’t place all the blame on this witnessed devolving of matrimony. I know the first excusing of your trysts gave you freedom. The tears, shed in private quarters, were long gone when she forgave you. Her heart spoke, or perhaps her belly – full with the child you’d already created – filled her hopes for new promises to be kept.

And when she elected not to join you as a partner on the religious path you’d chosen? Well, her divergence to a less visible path (filled with the private praise and void of public proclamations and titles) might have created a separation greater than she’d intended. I saw you waiver in your walk – putting on Church Face in public, and unable to breathe in the mask at home.

I’ve cringed at the slights between you – the grunts in lieu of greeting, the caustic replies when polite response was easy, and the painful exchanges of gifts of obligation rather than heart. And the absences? Well, they don’t foster a fondness.

As a child, I watched you build a schedule around your interests. It left little space for you to support mine. So unless my activities temporarily coincided with yours, you were missing in my search to find myself. There were many vacant seats at my performances – the ones you should have occupied. To draw you into my success, I charged you for my good grades. I knew then, as you dipped into your wallet, that you were aware I was working hard to succeed academically. And if I faltered on my efforts toward infallibility, I missed the praise for what I could do, but heard the chastisements and disappointments for what fell short.

It still shocks me to hear someone say how proud you are of me. I’ve rarely heard it direct from the source and often wondered if that was just something people said when introduced to a kid. Would they dare have mentioned they’d no idea I existed?

As I reminisce on my childhood, there aren’t many moments where I held your hand as you led me in life. I took my own carefully plotted steps towards goals all my own and waited for you to stand behind me, puffed up with pride. I’m always surprised when you arrive.

I remember the e-mails. Like me, I guess, you’re far more expressive with the pen than with the voice. There have been a number of times you’ve typed a mere two line message that has brought me to tears. Did you know I flagged them? Printed them when I could? Reread them, memorized them, and recited them?

A little recognition makes a profound impact. It’s easier, though, to break something down than it is to build it up.

But then, I’m amazed when you criticize my family. If I could give you a mirror, would you be so blunt?

The choices you’ve made give me 20-20 without having to rely on hindsight. I’ve learned many unintended lessons from you, the unknowing teacher. And though graduation is still far away, I’d like to thank you. I’d like to tell you that in spite of my reflections on your comings and goings, I love you. I’m lucky to have a model – rough though it may be – of who I want to be and who I don’t, in you.

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