Hopefully life will start to slow down and I can edit the photos from my mom’s 70th birthday and write about it – and start posting more regularly. And maybe even organize this blog a bit, which has been the intention since the beginning…
But today is what would have been my dad’s birthday. His 70th would have been last year. I am a big sucker for birthdays so I will celebrate in my own demented way and he gets a post in honour of his day of birth.
We’ve already talked about him in a few different contexts and no doubt there will be more talk in the future. He was a larger than life guy, like something out of the movies. Ours was a complicated, intense child-parent relationship that will supply fodder for thought for the rest of my life. Some of it was him. Some of it was me. Some of it was the generation in which I was birthed. Fathers played a strange role in those days and many children had complicated, often distant relationships with that parent and suffocating, obsessive relationships with the mothership. It was just the way it was… but that is a topic for further discussion.
Today we talk about me, my dad and self-esteem. And it is hardly the easy discussion you might envision.
My father died having never told me he was ever proud of me. Having spent a good portion of my life criticizing me. You would therefore likely decide he was bad for my self-esteem. And, hey, he could have tried a little harder 🙂
But that is not who he was. And his mother – my grandmother – scared me when I was a child because she was so tough. So she spoiled him rotten – but teach him how to be touchy-feely with other people… I really doubt it.
My father had a very tough childhood. He lost his father when he was 10. All of his other siblings had a different dad. His was far better but it still must have given him a sense of displacement. He grew up poor and left school at 15. He never realized how talented HE was so expecting him to give me self-esteem like an ice cream treat would have just been delusional on my part.
When I was growing up no one worried about children’s self-esteem. They worried if they had enough to eat and if their parents abused them. That’s how it still goes down in a lot of the world. And far too many children DON’T have enough to eat – or are abused. There is lots to worry about on that front.
But in the west we have all become spoiled in a way no other century could have envisioned. So we worry about everyone’s self-esteem. And make it sound like ice cream treats, to be bestowed on others for not acting up.
But this is where we have gone wrong. How we have created such a crazy sense of entitlement that the western countries are trying to take down the world economically. We don’t want for anything. We expect everything. And yet we still don’t have enough self-esteem if you listen to any random afternoon TV show.
Well… here’s a thought… maybe self-esteem needs to be earned, not given. My father never gave me any self-esteem treats. And sometimes he chipped away at it because he wasn’t feeling as confident as he should have.
But what he GAVE me was far more valuable and enduring. He gave me a simple yet comprehensive life philosophy that comprised the very first lego blocks for building my own self-esteem.
Sure, it’s easy when people tell you they are proud of you. But, really, that’s a little boring, isn’t it? 😉 And if you really want some solid self-esteem, it is best to collect your own lego blocks and create your own structure. Everyone will have a different design – and you will need to add and move the pieces as you grow older, to get it just right.
But the starter blocks are someone telling you to be your own person. That is the invaluable gift that my father gave me pretty much as soon as I could speak. I was pretty much the only six year old telling all the other kids to just be their own people and not worry about what was popular. If they liked something or believed in it, that was enough. Who cared what other people thought?
It was a position that he never waivered on. And he lived it. As I got older and he saw me putting it into practice, he supplied the fancy blocks. It was important to know who you were and what you wanted and not get distracted by the noise of popular opinion or naysayers. But this did not mean you could use this philosophy to become a dictator.
You needed to be sensitive to other people’s opinions. You should listen to them – and pay attention. You should follow your own path without hurting anyone else’s feelings. And you should make sure your ideas were civilized and good for the whole of society, not just for you. So you should develop your own personal philosophy, own it, and live it – but make sure it wasn’t a crappy one!
Because, of course, if you got lots of confidence from having a lousy life strategy and bulldozing other people, you would never get any self-esteem. Because you would be an asshole.
And I wasn’t even allowed to be impolite.
It was all incredible advice. I have spent my life telling other people about my dad’s ideas. He had lots. And many wonderful qualities. Today we are just nailing the essence of some of the best things he did for the world in his time here. He gave people the lego building blocks they could use to lead a confident, civilized life – doing interesting things, treating others well and using their brains to try and make the world a better place.
And people, you do that… all of a sudden you realize you have a lot of self-esteem – because you earned it the old-fashioned way, the only way that really works. Someone should tell Oprah 😉