Recently I celebrated a big achievement in my life. My friends and chosen family cheered for me. And even though I knew, in advance, that I wasn’t likely to get a congratulatory gift, or card, or call, from my family of origin, it still hurt. Still does hurt.
I am the lesbian daughter of conservative evangelical southern Baptists. The complexities of parent-child disappointment are not lost on me. I know it exists on both sides, that the hurt runs both ways.
But this was a BIG achievement.
As I talked myself through my tears on the morning of commencement, I heard myself say: Maybe I didn’t work hard enough. Maybe I did it wrong. Maybe it isn’t really much to be proud of. None of that sounded true, but it felt right.
Then I remembered a conversation I’d had earlier in the week…
We were sitting around the kitchen table, eating our tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches (is there a better lunch in the world?) and talking about Father’s Day. We talked about being a mom-only household. And we wondered about how our daughter will navigate the role her birth father has (hasn’t) played in her childhood.
I said: it is hard for kids to understand that the actions of adults in their life aren’t about them, the child. It takes growing up to realize that when your parents let you down, it isn’t about you. It’s about them.
So on the morning of my big achievement, I remembered that conversation, and I realized: I think it is about ME, but it’s not. What really hurts is feeling like I don’t deserve to be celebrated, because I am wrong, or shameful, or not-good-enough.
Some small but vital gear of hope and understanding clicked into place, and the complex clock-like mechanism that regulates my emotional balance and well-being began whirring again in a very reassuring way. I pulled myself back, and I looked again.
What do I honestly think about me? I think I rock. I think I did a really good job, not just according to arbitrary educational standards, but according to MY standards, which matters way more. I showed up. I took risks. I was brave. And I saw people respond to me, I saw the way my work made them think and question.
So while my heart is still a little sore, I know for certain that the lack of celebration isn’t about me. It is about my family of origin, and that difficulty we have, on both sides, of seeing and valuing each other when our values are so different.
The best part about this? The reason I’m writing about it now?
So on Father’s Days to come, if and when my daughter wonders why a member of her family doesn’t celebrate her, I can embody for her what it means to claim your own life, celebrate your own value, and cheer for yourself because YOU KNOW, deep-down, that you are amazing.
Because our daughter IS amazing. And so am I.