“Father Figures”

I have never really seen myself in the role of Great Sage or Oracle. I know too well the mistakes I’ve made in my life—those moments when my head seems to be in a different country from the rest of me and has taken common sense and sometimes morality with it. And I’m not even talking about those crazy “Hold my beer and watch this!” moments we all have in life. Despite this, I very frequently find myself asked for an opinion, even if not exactly advice, and too often I’m directly approached for advice on all sorts of issues. I not only have two grown sons but thousands of former students. I’m not in touch with all of them—the students—but plenty of them call, text, email, stop by. Inevitably the conversations get to some “Here’s my situation. What would you suggest?” In over forty years of teaching, those situations have run the gamut from bullies and girlfriend/boyfriend problems to sexual abuse, terminal illness, and death. So often I want to respond with a heartfelt and oh, so honest, “How the hell should I know??”

Truth be told, however, most of the time I am able to sympathize—even empathize—and help the truth seeker come to some course of action if not a solution. It’s the empathy that makes it work more often than not. I’ve been there; done that. Usually with a less than favorable conclusion myself: “Here’s what I did. Don’t do that.”

I’ve mentioned before (recently) that the people to whom I turned for advice are no longer with me. So much of my genetic/nurtured/geographic/generational influences seem to have kept me from adequately processing that, I think. I’ve made a few attempts to deal with it, but too often all I’ve done is hurt someone about whom I care deeply because I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling…because I don’t really know what I’m feeling. Typically (in so many ways) I hold things in. I’ve never really trusted “professional” therapists for some reason (probably part of the “typical”). At the same time, as a writer and many times a deep emotional well, I actually wear my heart on my sleeve. If I think about the words to the national anthem, for instance, and what they mean, and look at the flag and think about who and what it symbolizes, then I can’t sing the song. I get too choked up.

That bit of insight into my twisted psyche makes me worry about the advice people ask me to give them. Truly the worst for me is thinking that I’m setting a bad example for my sons. I don’t know who listens to them or even if they’re talking. I hope their good ladies provide the comfort and wisdom they need. I think they know that I am here if they need me, but will they tell me when they do? I hope so. Since we essentially share the same problems, you’d think we’d be our own therapy group. That’s more than likely our biggest stumbling block—we’re too much alike.

It’s good to have the friends I have. I know every one of them would help. I wish I could tell them how. I do know that all I have to do is ask. For those of you reading this who are in that illustrious group—Thank you, with all my heart. I hope all of you have someone there for you. If all else fails, call me. We can commiserate, at least.


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