I've been thinking this week about "failure". Risks that could lead to failure, fears associated with failure, the failure to please everyone, personal expectations that lead to disappointment and feelings of failure, etc. Those sorts of internal conversations.
But the "failure conversation" that rattles around in my head centers around my family mostly. At the end of a lot of days I nurse feelings of futility and failure when it comes to raising my kids and leading my marriage. I know all the right things, but my ability to execute what I know I need to do has been lacking lately. My dad used to say, "There's many a slip between the cup and the lip." In other words, somewhere between the cup of water and your watering mouth there are good many spills. I have all the best intentions, but so do politicians running for office.
I am so very tired on most days by the time I come home from work. I try to put my restless mind to rest so that I can play with the girls, but I'll admit, most days I don't feel very playful. I get home and I just want to check out. And when I say check out, I mean lay down and power down.
I will see the girls finishing their homework, and I'll want to help them, but I will sit there on the couch paralyzed in borderland.
I will want to ask them creative questions about their day and when I open my mouth the words will seem so canned and corny. Me: "Are you doin' good?" Them: "Yeah." Me: "That's good." Me: "Did you have a good day at school?" Them: "Yep." Me: "That's cool." Me: "So, how ya' doin'?" Them: "Good." Me: "Good." Here I am, a communicator by trade, trained in counseling, speaking and listening. A conversationalist by nature stumped and stupefied standing stunned before his children. My insides are screaming, "You got nothin', son!" And I feel that.
But that's not the worst of it, folks. I wish it were.
There is a darker underbelly to this familial failure that pains me deeply. The thing that really kills me is the level of my impatience and anger when my surroundings don't comply with my immediate needs. When I can't control the environment I'm in, I start to feel agitated and irritated. Like if I need quietness, and there is bickering between the girls, I feel like I'm going to blow a gasket. If I want to rest momentarily and one of them is banging on the piano, I feel my insides start to tighten like I'm readying myself to pick up the piano and throw it out the front window. If I want to watch ESPN and they are watching "I Love Lucy", I sit there playing out schemes of how to get them elsewhere so that I can have the television to myself. Isn't that sick? Here I've been gone all day and when I get home, I want them elsewhere.
On a good many days I can't shut my brain off. I try several techniques to flush busy thoughts from my head to no avail. I tell myself the truth. I quote bible passages. I remind myself of what's most important. I move from "What if" speculations to "So what" conclusions. I tell myself that it doesn't matter. I talk myself into smiling. I take a shower at 5:30pm to re-wake up and fake my body into feelings of a new day. I read my little devotional next to my bed groping for some bit of truth to meditate upon. Nothing. I'm serious, each of these little tricks might alleviate the congestion for a short time, but it returns with a vengeance. Like the Bible passage where the demons were cast out of the house, they often return with seven more to beat you to a bloody pulp.
But as my daughters get older and my wife gets wiser, these shenanigans are no longer tolerated. Often my own daughters will take me to the woodshed by saying, "Dad, what's wrong?" I will look at them like I've been caught committing a vile crime, leafing through a mental rolodex of excuses. I'll say something like, "Dad's just tired." I think to some degree they get it, but Kami is 11 now, and her mind knows that there's more going on than sleep deprivation. Her face tells me that the answer of "being tired" isn't cutting it anymore. What happens when your kids get old enough to call your bluff? What happens when they wise up to your unhealthy patterns of dealing with stress?
They aren't in a high chair anymore. They aren't aimlessly drifting from room to room looking for something to chew on. They aren't content just reading a Dr. Seuss book on the love seat. They need creative guidance and recreation. They won't just sit on the floor playing with blocks while you catch a power nap after dinner. You can't just put them in front of a cartoon while you do your thing. Those days are downstream.
My kids can tell when I'm half-present. They can see when my eyes are at half-mast. They know when I'm being selfish and when I'm looking for ways to shirk my responsibilities. When they ask me to do something and I say, "Just a minute" they know that is just buying time and really means "I don't want to." When they ask if we can play "Skipbo" and I say "Maybe" it really means "No". But "maybe" sounds much less cruel. When they ask if they can do something and I say, "I don't know" they are starting to realize the stalling technique behind those three words the gives me time to deliberate--oh let's just say it--procrastinate. I just feel sick writing this out for the record. It looks so much uglier on paper.
But I write this out so that I can name it. Until I name something I have a hard time seeing it. And when I can't see it, it's hard to get my crosshairs on it to kill it. And boy, oh boy, would it give me exceeding pleasure to kill some of these tendencies. Tendencies toward paralyzation and passivity. Tendencies that allow stress to lead me to stalemate. Tendencies toward selfish survival mechanisms that kick in and cause myopic tunnel vision. All of these tendencies have to die.
I'm not writing this to beat myself up. I'm writing this to build myself up. I need a reconstruction of my family life once again. I say once again because leading my family passes through valleys and mountaintops at an alarming rate these days. I feel like the undulations are dizzying.
Lord, make me a family man of the highest order.