It is my pleasure today to offer you a guest post by Wolf Pascoe of Just Add Father.
I’ve only known Wolf, a father, physician, and writer, for a few months, but he swiftly earned himself a spot in my Google Reader with his insightful, beautifully written posts on the problems and prospects of parenting. While Wolf first drew me in with his exquisite essays about raising his son, Nick, I was delighted to find that he and I also share a fondness for Cormac McCarthy, Yeats, and meaningful stories, all of which he writes about with resonant wisdom and wit.
I am very grateful to Wolf for sharing one of his pieces with us today.
What is it, exactly, about the F word?
by Wolf Pascoe
Who wants to hear about the lucky, or the rich?
The rest must step up. They have to say
I’m going blind, or
I’m about to go blind, or
nothing’s working right, or
the child is sick, or
here and there I’m patched together,
more or less.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, from “The Voices”
Lately, a lot lately, I’ve been feeling like that voice in the Rilke poem. God bless Rilke. Have you read the “Archaic Torso of Apollo?” You should. It’s an upwardly mobile poem, and right for a land of upwardly mobile metaphor. But thank God Rilke gets down, too.
My son Nick got down the other day and dropped the F bomb. As in, “F— you, dada.”
I left the room. “I’m sorry, Nick, I can’t do business with you now,” I said.
Because what I really wanted to do was punch a hole in that fat mouth of his.
What is it about the F word?
Nick led a sheltered life until he hit the primary yard at his school, where the first through sixth grades all mix. You can’t last long there without learning a new language. Language is power. Who wouldn’t want to bring it home and test it out?
It isn’t great what he’s doing with it now. He’s sensitive and gets overwhelmed and has nowhere to go with it, nowhere to go with the big feelings. And the F bomb is a release from that, it’s become a drug, a defense from feelings.
If you can’t get sad, get angry.
Maybe this isn’t true for your kid, but it’s true for Nick. And I’m glad, actually, that he’s doing this at age nine, when there’s still time to work with it, the overwhelm. Whereas when he’s fifteen and gets overwhelmed maybe he learns to smoke a joint to chill, and who listens to dad and mom at that point anyway?
So I set limits. I tell him my feelings are hurt and I need to take care of myself now and I can’t be around him, but maybe I can get back to doing whatever we were doing later.
And I wonder, how do you teach a nine-year-old to reduce stress?
YOURSELF, AS YOU ARE
“What’s your side of it?” a friend said, when I told her the story.
“It sounds like you lose your sense of self when Nick swears at you.”
I sit with this. I roll the phrase lose your sense of self around with my tongue. It tastes pretty good, like moldy cheese. I swallow it. Down it goes, hollowing out a core as thick as a tennis ball. The hollow gives me the same feeling as the first, awful drop of a roller coaster. It burns a hole in my stomach.
I decide my friend is right. I’m full of holes. This is where Rilke comes in: I’m sort of patched together. Them holes. All them holes.
The thing is, it never goes away completely, this feeling low, this feeling there’s nobody in your corner. Because there are built-in holes in the structure of personality. Because nobody got enough valuing. Nobody got enough blessing. That’s what we’re talking–blessing. Blessing yourself as you are.
God, I wish it didn’t sound like I had something to sell.
And here comes Nick, my son, my flesh, not my actual flesh, but as close to actual as I’m going to get. Nick, whom I watch sleeping, his heart and breath, up rising and down falling, the systole and diastole of the universe. That Nick. Fires off a round and tears me a new hole. Rends the garment where it’s patched together.
And instead of getting sad, I get angry.
I make a list of things to do. Things underneath anger and that have nothing to do with Nick. Things like meditate and breathe and be in nature and sit in solitude and feel the sadness and cry and talk it over with someone and write it all down.
And pray. I always forget that.
Because God should really be interested in people being who they are.
Please feel free to leave a comment for Wolf here. Tell us about how your kids tear holes in your fabric and how you put yourself back together again.
And please – please! You won’t be sorry – head over to Just Add Father to be treated to more of his writing.