I wasn’t prepared for this particular question. For the last half hour the conversation had focused primarily on the blog, being a dad, and more specifically a divorced one. The answer, pulled from my proverbial posterior, ended up being a monologue on the current state of fatherhood and how much of culture’s emotional bankruptcy is the result of fathers having more important things to do than be daddy. In hindsight I’m embarrassed I hadn’t considered this question before, being someone who searches for lessons in most situations, she caught me with my contemplative pants down.
“What have you learned in all of this?”
For days I couldn’t get her question out of my mind and it starting getting to me. What in the past year had I exactly learned through writing this blog, observing the reactions of its readers, and connecting with others across the country and the world? What was I to make of all this?
If you and I had a cup of coffee today you’d pick up on two things immediately. First, I’m excruciatingly bad at small talk and second; I’m acutely long on opinions. But my dogmatism, as unflattering as it often can be, does come with one benefit; a silver tongue that’s gotten me out of more ass kicking’s than I can remember. From my earliest days I’ve been able to talk my way out of most any situation while telling you how I really feel and topped off with a pretty bow.
Most people who have their feet firmly planted in one way of thinking don’t have many friends. I’ve met more than a few who held staunchly to their beliefs and ended up drinking alone. With no room for other’s opinions, they’re labeled small-minded, arrogant, and judgmental. In today’s world the most disparaging claim someone can have made about them is being intolerant. But I wasn’t that guy. Sure I would freely express my thoughts, but I dodged those ugly accusations for one reason. The basis for my point of view was as scattered as the emotions of a thirteen-year-old girl. I was a master at adapting my opinion to the specific situation or setting – especially if I thought it could get me something. I swallowed hook, line, and sinker my college fraternity’s creed that ordered its brothers to ‘appear well in any company’. I could be liberal on campus supporting the right to choose, drug use, and promiscuity then be the conservative on Sundays, when I actually went to church, demanding a return to more traditional values.
“We’re all too inclined to think of truth as negotiable.” Chuck Colson
I learned that as long as I didn’t settle on any one side of an argument I got away with my skin still attached. It’s humiliating to look back and see the person I was, someone whose open-mindedness and longing to appear well in every company produced an individual enthusiastic and passionate about nothing other than his own personal universe and getting his fair share.
I started noticing something wasn’t right when I began justifying to myself the more serious actions and behaviors that even I knew were inherently wrong. Yet as I stayed centered on my own ends I found it easy to simply ignore the red flags. I saw it as my personal right to live and act as I pleased regardless of the tension I may have felt. In many ways I had become the personification of the successful modern man acting with impunity in the attainment of my own ends, and self-righteous enough to believe that what I was doing was true.
The more I thought about the reporter’s question the more I couldn’t get away from those experiences. If given the opportunity again, I would respond vastly different than the canned answer I provided. In the year of writing this blog my most surprising revelation is the ease and the means at which people are able justify and explain away their bad behaviors and poor choices. I’ve read as women give rationale for their affairs while men defended walking out on their children. Relating all too well, it seems the only basis for their worldview is the attainment of their own happiness. It’s interesting to note that so many of these defenses begin with statements like “I know I wasn’t perfect, BUT” or “That may be true for most, HOWEVER”. We’ve made a well placed conjunction the only necessary means of absolution.
The basis for my point of view was as scattered as the emotions of a thirteen-year-old girl.
If there is one reaction I receive from my writing it’s that I’m brutally honest, I think it’s a by-product of being opinionated. It’s been my experience that responses fall at polar extremes, people either love it or they hate it – there is no middle ground. That’s taken some getting use to as I’m still a recovering Likeaholic. But sometime back I made the decision that I would write from my own story, speaking what I know to be truth, even if doing so indicts others or me in the process. In keeping with that I choose to lay it all on the table and call a spade a spade, if that’s what it is. While it doesn’t always win me admirers or followers I feel I’ve remained faithful to that commitment.
Which brings me to a second discovery from all of this; most of us don’t like to be confronted with the truth. Opting instead for a rainbow and butterfly version of life with truth being relative to how we feel in the moment. I can appreciate that way of thinking because I’ve been there. But the funny thing is I’ve come to realize an inexplicable sense of freedom with living life solidly rooted to a set of ideals and principles, instead of remaining mid-air away from attack and criticism.
In the final tally, I’ve come to believe that part of my duty as a man, father, and friend is to speak, teach, and counsel others on the truth, always with the understanding that doing so could mean I forever drink alone.
But I’ve found it’s much easier to stand at the bar when I have both feet planted firmly on the ground.