Monday, March 3, 2008

i don't like it when you go back to work

week before last i was waiting on my friend brad to get to the restaurant where we were having lunch. i was by myself in the lobby, hanging out. turns out, it was in the middle of the week when i was passing my kidney stone, so i was a little out of it. but i was just sitting, surrounded by mexican art and wall hangings in bright colors. people walked in and out; it was about 1230, so the early lunch crowd were finishing.
a man came around the corner. he was 40ish. tall. nice clothes - not a suit, but nice slacks and pressed shirt. shined boots. crisp haircut. he looked determined to leave. i heard a boy call out behind him. the man stopped.
"don't go, daddy!" the boy cried. "i don't like it when you go back to work!"
behind me - i couldn't see the table - i heard the mom say, "but daddy has to go back to work, honey." the boy came around and the dad turned and picked him up. the son looked about four years old. the man held the boy and said, quietly, "daddy has to go back to the office, but i'll see you at home tonight. it won't be long." he held the boy, who had his little arms wrapped around the dad's neck. the son was crying. not sobbing, just sad. "don't go, daddy," he said; "don't go back to work."
i heard the mom say something about going to the park. then a grandmother at the table joined in; she said something about them all going to the park, and getting ice cream. "yeah," the mom said, trying to be cheerful, and at the same time, make this happen, "we're going to have lots of fun. we'll see daddy in just a little while."
then the dad, who was still holding the boy, set the boy down on the floor, and looked at him, and put his arms on the boy's shoulders, and said, "it's okay. daddy has to go back to work. stay with mama and grandma." and then he added, "shake it off."
it wasn't mean; it was just the dad's way of instructing his son about how to deal with this emotion of sadness. "shake it off."
the mother and grandmother and father were all working to achieve a series of objectives for what they felt needed to happen that day. daddy has to go back to work. daddy has a job. daddy has to be at the job, so daddy can keep the job. we need the money daddy makes, in order to live in our house and have our cars and eat at this nice restaurant and live in this nice city. you need to get used to being separated from your parents. it's a useful and necessary skill in order for you to grow up and be successful in your life. mama and daddy need to know you can do this, so they can feel like they're being good parents, and not feel fear that they're doing a bad job. grandma is here; she may judge mama and daddy as being bad parents, or the boy as being spoiled. i dunno what else was on their list of factors that were involved behind their leading this boy toward what they felt needed to happen.
they were using reason. coaxing. instructing. inserting rational thinking and consequences/rewards so that the boy would do what they wanted him to. it makes sense. it's how the world works. the interjection of reason over emotion. it's how things work.
and it struck me as - odd. not uncommon; it's very common. it's what we do. but it was just weird.
the boy's need and feelings were deep, visceral. he didn't want his daddy to go. i have no idea what is going on in that family's dynamic, their relationships, how much daddy works, whether the mama's a good mother, or whether home is an unsafe place when daddy's not there, or if daddy's emotionally distant and the boy misses him and wants to be close to him. i don't know.
but i know that feeling - please, don't go. don't leave me. i miss you. i'm sad when you're not here.
i know the deep, down-in-the-bones-and-balls feeling of loneliness and loss. you do, too, i bet. and i felt for the boy.
i felt for the parents, too, having two children of my own, and remembering my own sadness when we'd have to teach the children, as these parents were doing, about how life works, and how we have to put our emotions in the places where they go, so that we can participate in our culture in the way it works.
the boy relented, and said he'd go with mama and grandma to the park. the dad came back around the corner.
he had a serious look on his face. was he sad? angry? feeling guilty or lost? or just ready to get back to the office or the truck or his next client? i don't know. but he didn't look happy, or even reassured. he passed me with his head down.

i wondered, what would have happened if the dad had taken the afternoon off? it was a tuesday; tuesdays aren't a day to take off; they're days to get things done. but what if? it was a gorgeously sunny day. what if he'd said, Y'know, fuck it - i'm taking my son to the park. or, i'm going to go home with my son, and let's put on our pajamas and pile into bed and watch a dvd and eat popcorn. what if he'd said to his boss, I'm taking the afternoon to do something important, and i'll get to my emails this evening.
would it have been possible for him to do that, and keep his commitments as well? i don't know anything about his story, his work life, his feelings about his productivity - whether it was fear that drove him, or a sense of responsibility. maybe this was an important lesson for this son to learn; maybe the kid was manipulative and bratty and had been insisting on pushing his parents around.
but i can usually tell the difference between someone who is sincerely in pain, and someone who is projecting their pain. and this kid just wanted to be with his daddy.
i know, our culture says to us, when we're sad or lost or confused or tired, "shake it off." i know, that's the "right" thing to do. but i see so many people who've been shaking it off for years, decades - and at some point, the deep loss and sadness and emptiness and longing in their soul can't or won't be ignored anymore, and they just need. they just need. and they can't stuff it down and shake it off anymore. and i hear them say, in all sorts of ways, Daddy, don't go back to work.
sometimes they turn to something beautiful, and find hope and meaning and redemption. sometimes they don't.


nonprofitprophet said...

Beautiful brother. Yes, and some of them are still "shaking" from the years of shaking it off. There is no telling the dynamics of that particular family - but I am sure it is as you interpreted, and will be replayed as that young man becomes the father to the son. The cat and the cradle.... ~npp

Melinda said...

Good words, npp.

Rick, I love the way you see things.

I have recently experienced something powerful after having lost (changed) a long term relationship. My close friends, like people at Journey, would say, "I know, baby, it hurts. It sucks. Let me hold you, sweetheart." That's it. No "It'll be okay, cheer up." No "Let me fix this relationship so you two can be together." Just being in agreement with my pain.

I love that, the validation of my grief. It's enough, I don't need the immediate fix. Ironically, it's true that I *do* need to cheer up, but the cheer that's real comes on the other end of the (painful) process of recognizing some things about myself.

In the same way, little ones need that too, I think.

julie ann said...

this is *so* beautiful, rick. it made me cry.
that is all.

Gnats-Dad said...

You are something....good post

journeyingrick said...

thanks guys. i'm so glad it was meaningful for you.

Juanita Scheer said...

I feel for little guys who don't get to see their dad that much. I'm close to a little boy in that situation. Boys need their dads. Apparently, in the olden days dads would take their sons with them to work; sons would work side by side with their dads while they were growing up. Unfortunately, with the industrial revolution that all changed. I will say one thing, the little boy I know is lucky to have his mom at home with him and she wouldn't be able to stay at home if it weren't for her husband's career, as demanding as it is. But would it be better for his dad to work less, and then his mother might have to work too, and then he'd have to be in day-care all day? Who knows. Therein lies the predicament for many parents. On the upside, in day-care he'd get to play with more kids. Oh well, there's no Plan B. There is a reason and a purpose for the way each of us is brought up.


glad you're doing better!

journeyingrick said...

yeah, i don't know what that family's situation was. but i know what that little boy was feeling, and i bet i've felt what that dad was feeling.

stupid industrial revolution! william blake wrote about the "dark satanic mills" ...

Anonymous said...

i was struck by your phrase, "the interjection of reason over emotion." because in our culture if you aren't rational you aren't a productive cog. hence the whole motivational/self-help industry. people think it's to help them get a leg up on the man, but really it is created by the man to juice a little more passion out of the robot.

what emotion has rational value?

emotion seems to only have value if it makes you a more productive contributor in the machine. and amazingly god's grace is still their in the heart of the machine. fuck rationality... a little bit. :-D

if emotion has no "rational" value, then what value does rationality have? rationality is overrated at the least.

check out this company i used to work for/with.

oh BTW rick, i switched to

journeyingrick said...

yeah, scheer, i'm with you.
fuck rationality ... maybe more than a little bit? in my case, it's about unplugging from the matrix that wants to tell me and everyone else that we have to behave and obey things that aren't True, just Made Up. and it makes me sad when we're told to suck it up and not feel anything - so we'll be, as you said, more productive. ugh.