Monday, December 27, 2010



"So what do you do when you start getting sad in remembering?"

"I try not to think about it."

This is a phrase, try not to think about it, that has been administered to me countless times throughout my childhood and into my adult years. It is a phrase that I used to consider to be a bullshit philosophy; bottle up your emotions and decide to deal with them later, knowing that later will never come.

It wasn't until I was in therapy about a year ago, when I had just finished a long, unending rant when I started to reconsider this concept. I went on and on about the doom in my world. My therapist sat, patiently waiting until I had purged myself of what seemed like every single negative thought that had been stinking up my brain for months. When I was done, it was almost like a scene from Good Will Hunting. There was a pause, then she said,

"So. Your family members tell you to try not to think about it. You know, Susan, you may want to consider acquiring this skill. Just a little bit."

It caught me off guard. My therapist was suggesting that I learn how to bottle up my feelings when things got rough. Little did I know that she was absolutely right.

Walls. In the past year-and-half, I've learned how to build them.

Walls protect you. They hold your guts in. They neutralize your emotions when you witness sights and situations you could not have previously stomached. They dull the sharp needles that poke you behind your eyeballs.

When I stand over my dad's hospital bed at our house, my mind tries to play these tricks on me. I'm standing there, and I'm watching my dad sleep. But I squint my eyes and I can see him behind the dugout at the softball field, announcing that I will be pitcher this inning. Then I see him driving a boat down the St. Croix river. Then I see him sitting outside by the fire, legs widely crossed while he's leaning back in his chair, telling me about this crazy flight he had from Minot, MN.

No. Stop it. Don't do that, you stupid brain.

I cannot go there. I cannot let thoughts and memories creep in. If I do this, it can be the middle of a completely ordinary day, and I will start crying. 

If I drive by Lake Calhoun, and I allow myself to picture one of my walks with my dad, if I allow myself to go beyond the 30 second mark and I get real deep into a memory of that time when my boyfriend dumped me and my dad forced me out to walk around the Lake. He took a picture of the sunset on his mobile phone then later printed it out on a color copier and wrote a quote on it about God always loving me... If I let myself remember how my dad bought me a hot dog and a Chipwich ice cream sandwich that day and said we should probably eat junk food because it would be good for us...

There are times when I have to pull my car over to the side of the road. That is what happens, if I don't use my walls.

Despite them being completely counter to my personality, I believe in my walls. My walls protect me and they protect my family. They help me stay strong. If I spend time with my dad, and I don't have my walls up, I will not be strong for him. If I am not strong around my dad, he will start to worry about things. He will worry about why everyone is talking about his blood sugar. He will worry about What's Next.

I don't think my dad is worrying about me. No, I think it is at the point where he is consumed with survival and so each day the man I see is actually primarily a human being in a remarkably complex medical state. Secondarily, he is my dad. There are times when he is calm and feeling OK when he can primarily be my dad. I'm not going to sugar coat, these times are rare now. But when he has a dad moment with me, it is extremely powerful. A smile, a wink, an eye roll at my latest business travel saga, that's My Dad.

I'm not suggesting that you build walls. Maybe you are lucky enough that you don't have to. But one thing I am suggesting is that you call your dad. If you can, go over to his house. Give him a hug. Tell him three things that impress you about him, then tell him he's a good dad, just for being one. 

You should do that. Now.

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