Here’s Looking at You, Kid

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When my children used to walk in the room, when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face. But if you let your face speak what’s in your heart…because when they walked in the room, I was glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see.
~Toni Morrison

During my preteen and teenage years, when I was at my dad’s house, I cannot remember ever coming out of my room without him immediately telling me what was wrong with my appearance. I have no doubt he did this because he loves me. I’m certain his intentions were absolutely good.

The benefit has been as an adult, I’m often complimented on my style. People regularly tell me they like the way I present myself. I don’t write this brag, only to point out, my father has good taste and taught it to me.

He also taught me to hate coming out of my room. I dreaded it. I braced for it. I took a deep breath to steal myself before I opened that door in the morning.

I never let him see that. I wouldn’t dare show that I cared what he thought of me. But I did. On some level, I guess we always care what our parents think of us.

Even now, when I know I’m going to see my dad, I make sure my clothes, hair and makeup are what I want them to be. Absolutely everything is intentional. When my weight is higher than it should be, or my roots have not been done recently, I enter his presence holding my breath, just waiting for him notice and point it out.

I’m 37 years old. I’m educated. I’ve achieved some success. I’m raising a really cool kid. One sharp remark from that man, and I feel like I’m 14 caught with a messy room again.

I do not believe, for even a second, he’s ever intended to be cruel to me. He really thinks he’s being helpful. He did teach me my great sense of style, after all. I think he honestly believes if I just look a certain way, then everything will be ok for me.

The ironic part: I have probably the thickest skin of anyone I know. It’s really almost impossible for most people to hurt my feelings. I have no expectation that anyone will particularly like me, so I’m thrilled to death when they do and not terribly disturbed when they don’t. I probably learned this from Dad.

But part of being a parent is looking at what’s been shown to me and deciding how to integrate it. I genuinely want my son to present himself in the best possible way. I hope others find him attractive to the extent that’s useful in this life.

I do not want him to value the opinions of others above his own opinion. Making himself into something anyone else wants him to be, even me, if it’s not authentic, will be disastrous for him. It always is.

Spending his life waiting for criticism that will inevitably come from me or his dad is heavy burden. I want him to feel like I’m on his side, not trying to catch him in a mistake.

So I have decided to do my very best to implement Toni Morrison’s advice. I will greet him with an open heart and bright eyes. I will be more delighted by his soul, and less concerned about if his shirt and shorts match. I will dance in the kitchen more and iron clothes less.

This does not mean that I can possibly stop being who I am, any more than my dad could stop being who he is. Part of the package just cannot change. Everything will always be over planned and slightly too much. My organization will always and forever be getting a little out of hand.

But maybe there’s a balance in there. That’s what I’m going for. To let go of my need for total control and let my son be wonderful, just as he is.

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