"Who did you have to be for your father?"
It's a simple question I heard on the Timothy Ferriss podcast. It was an episode featuring Tony Robbins.
At first, I thought "Huh?" Turns out Tony uses this question to uncover internal conflicts. To find the things we beat ourselves up for without knowing why. The high standards we yearn to achieve, but seldom do. Why are the standards there in the first place? Why do we expect so much from ourselves?
We all want financial security, joy, loving friends and a healthy, attractive body. But what is this natural current flowing through me? Why would I never be happy living certain ways, even though others do and seem content?
At 32 years old, I see both of my parents within myself. My mother's slight neurosis and yearning for connection and experience. My father's stubbornness and desire for order and control. But whether I like it or not, my dad affected my life the most. After each of my many failures, he's the first person I think about. I can even see him now, shaking his head in disappointment over my latest stupid mistake or Amazon purchase.
Who Was Your Dominant Parental Figure?
It doesn't have to be your father, but for myself and most men - father is the dominant figure. Though he was often gone, his was the love I wanted most. I yearned for his respect and to impress him.
Whose love did you want most? Whether you received it or not, whether you spent much time with them - it doesn't matter. Sadly, it's usually the parent whose love we didn't get that we want the most. It's just how we're built. We want that which we cannot have.
Now, let's talk about me
My dad was this "strong man" who led businesses, stayed on course and didn't lose control. Even if something was wrong, he plowed through. He's a machine. And I mean that as a compliment.
Now take me. I had many struggles growing up. Struggles with feeling "different" and weird. Damaged and flawed in the core of my being. From as young as seven, I remember these feelings. I was visiting many doctors, getting medicated for ADD and behavior issues. I was thought to be autistic for a brief spell. They made me look at funny pictures and treated me like a strange little boy.
The point of this is: I felt so different from my dad. How could he understand me? From my foundational years onward, we were different people in my mind. Not being able to sit still - he must think I'm weak and pathetic. Of course, he probably never felt this way even for a second. But we have a great talent for putting ourselves down, even at seven years old. In fact, this feeling affects me still. I never felt that "unconditional love" thing from my dad. I always felt I had to impress him or earn his attention. I felt like a scoreboard. And all I can remember is losing points.
It's obvious my dad and I never communicated about emotions or self-worth. I cannot remember one moment of real connection with my father. When I was seven years old, we built a model something or another together and it was nice.
My poor mother was always working or upset, and frantic about my father. His work, work, work, lifestyle and frequent trips were tough on her. I would hear her cry. The last thing I wanted was to tell her the dark thoughts swirling in my brain. Nor the sad feelings in my heart. She had enough struggle already. I felt very alone.
This is not about placing blame
The point of the first question isn't to blame or demonize. This exercise is a tool for awareness, self-observation, and analysis. My father loves me and would do anything in the world for me. He had no idea how his actions made me feel. And I didn't understand these feelings until in recent years.
Fathers are imperfect, and mothers are imperfect. Just like us. Here's something maturity has taught me: Nobody knows what they're doing. That's one of the great equalizers in life.
We're all doing our best. And that's all we can do. My dad's upbringing made him the man he is today. And his only further education has been business and work. It's easy to understand now, but for many years I fought these simple facts. He loves me in his way, and I cannot control that. The way he loves me doesn't change who I am.
I love my dad, and he did his duty as best he could. He made plenty of mistakes, but I respect him. He's an impressive man. I only hope someday my daughter is as impressed with me.
So, now what?
Where does this realization leave me? Well..
All we can do is live right here, right now. Correct? This exercise can either entrap us or free us. I vote freedom.
Awareness is the first step to living with more intelligence and peace. The next is simple - keep doing it. When you're aware, you can step back and have a look. "Wow, that's interesting. I see." Self-awareness establishes ground zero. You can stand on both legs, look around, and begin to change. Awareness leads you the power of acceptance.
Self-acceptance means opening my heart, laying everything out on the table, and moving on.
Accepting yourself is the end of resistance. I was exhausted from years of running, fighting, pushing, and desiring.
For years I fought my natural self while trying to be someone my dad would be proud of. Living a life filled with anxiety, pushing for more from myself. Forever coming up short. Running from the pain and loneliness that would creep in. Fleeing from the natural signs that I was living life the wrong way.
A chance to raise my daughter different
This knowledge not only helps me live with more joy, but it also makes me a better dad.
My daughter isn't on the scoreboard system. Lily doesn't need to impress me or make me proud to earn my love. She's #1 priority in my life. And she knows I love her and that I'm ecstatic she's my kid. I tell her probably 19 times an hour, and I mean it every time. Overkill? No.
It's important that she feels comfortable in her innate goodness. She was born to be herself, and she is here to give her gift to the world. Whatever that gift may be - I'm so impressed.
Dear daughter, life is happening for you, not to you. Remember this mantra forever. "For me, not to me." You can choose love and acceptance, always. The most important thing is treating you and others around you with compassion and understanding. Learn to become a light to yourself and to those who suffer. Everything else is a walk in the park.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Take the Lemons. It has been modified and republished here with permission.