Insincerity is always weakness; sincerity even in error is strength. – George Henry Lewes
I might be the most naive buffoon on the planet. I thought sincerity mattered. I have been schooled again. Yesterday I took my youngest daughter out for what I thought would be a pleasant lunch at Moe’s. During the car ride back to her mom’s she unloaded on me all the things I did wrong in my marriage to her mom and since our divorce. She delivered this with a kind of ferocity–and hurt–that felt like I was not interacting with my 12-year-old daughter but with my ex-wife herself.
Parents can usually tell when our kids are parroting things they hear elsewhere. Much like when an English teacher spots passages in her students’ writing that don’t sound like their voices so went my conversation with my daughter. Suddenly all the work I’ve done the past five years to build a sense of respect for myself that was so missing in my marriage to my three daughters’ mom vanished as if whooshed out the open car window.
One way after another my daughter recounted how I failed and her wounded mother had to overcome. Starting with a job at Nike my ex loved she supposedly gave up “to make me happy” so her mom and I could be hired by another sports company as a couple. How her mom
I might be the most naive buffoon on the planet. I thought sincerity mattered.
said she would break up with her boyfriend if my daughter and her sisters didn’t like him and I never gave my girls that kind of say over my relationships. How she will never respect my new wife–the mother of one of her friends since kindergarten–as a step mom or as a mother figure. How the money I pay for child support each month covers only the most minimal of household expenses at her mom’s house while her mom bears the largest burden of providing.
It’s easy to see how I might get defensive and say, “yeah, but….” Instead, I saw a hurt little girl venting the pain she’d kept bottled up. This is good, I said to myself, as she spoke, tears welling up in her brown eyes. All the sadness and disappointment of a girl whose parents couldn’t get along filled our little car and seemed to weigh it down on the highway.
All the sadness and disappointment of a girl whose parents couldn’t get along filled our little car and seemed to weigh it down on the highway.
Comforting my daughter seemed to do very little. I tried to maintain a calm so that she could vent, even when the daggers she threw hit their mark in my heart. On and on my poor kid lashed out at me.
My divorce, now five years ago, has served me a host of valuable life lessons. About relationships. About parenting. About people. About myself. I thought I was done discussing the topic with my kids as things seemed pretty well settled in our two houses. My ex now has a live-in boyfriend whom she has told my daughters she will marry eventually. She has a job and remains living in the house we had together before our divorce. I see little improvements around the house my ex has accomplished with her boyfriend when I go to pick up my kids. My daughters are moving on in school, taking on sports and drama and cheer and other activities they like. We recently spent what I thought had been a wonderful spring break vacation together in Florida. There had been no signs of distress. Until Moe’s.
All this time I thought my sincerity and kindness, qualities I have been trying to teach my girls since they were born, would shine through the massive paradigm shift divorce from their mother brought. I thought sincerely, openly and deeply expressing my love to my daughters would be enough. I thought my daughters would see in me a different way of treating people, especially those closest to us, and respect me for it.
All this time I thought my sincerity and kindness, qualities I have been trying to teach my girls since they days they were born, would shine through the massive paradigm shift divorce from their mother brought.
These lessons I had hoped to teach my daughters have been overshadowed by the things my ex-wife seems to have taught them. I could be wrong, but her world view appears to be one in which there are only winners and losers and you better not be a loser or you will feel like crap. There is little room for kindness unless it can be used to get what you want in my ex’s world view. It’s a world where people can be manipulated like players on a chess board, which is the way I felt for most of our marriage.
Instead of being a part of who we are sincerity according to my ex is a mask that protects one from being hurt. What an idiot I have been for thinking that showing vulnerability, that loving despite the risks of being disrespected and hated, are the better way to live.
Instead of being a part of who we are sincerity is the mask that protects one from being hurt.
I have believed since I was a little boy that sincerity mattered. It strengthens relationships, infuses them with authenticity so they can prosper like an oak whose roots run deep into the ground. You sometimes get hurt when you are sincere. That is the risk one takes in all relationships because the reward of more fulfilling, meaningful relationships is worth it.
It is a sad thing to go through life guarded, so fearful that at any moment someone will take from you that you have to scheme to protect yourself. I can’t figure out how to show my daughters that respect and sincerity come together. Sincere people respect themselves. Sincere people know they have the capacity to weather times when life seems to let them down.
I have been cataclysmically naive. Like I’ve been speaking Swedish to them the entire time. My hopes that my daughters would learn from my sincerity and vulnerability and respect me for it have been dashed like eggs thrown against a brick wall. I don’t know what to do. Like learning previous lessons life has dished out, I’ll have to chew on it for awhile.
I almost titled this essay, “Burial on the Presidio Banks” after a song title from one of my favorite post-rock bands, This Will Destroy You. Titles are such subjective things. If you read my work you will see the majority are named for songs from This Will Destroy You or Explosions in the Sky, another favorite. Sometimes the titles are dead on appropriate. Others they are a reach, even for me. So practicality won the day, even if it lacks originality. Enjoy.