I was born on October 23, 1981 at 7:32 pm. I entered the world like most children except for one very important thing, there was only one parent in that room.
In the absence of my father, I became very close to my grandfather, Hank. He was a World War II veteran who had served in the 1st Infantry Division and by all accounts a grumpy old man, who drank too much and had a stern attitude. But, not for me, I adored him and he adored me. I think I was a bit of a second chance for him to express love to his children in a way he couldn't when he was younger.
And, how could you resist my two year old face, looking for the love of a father, crawling on my hands and knees, barking and panting, pretending to be a puppy.
In November 1985, my grandpa, the closest man in my life lost his battle to lung cancer. At age 4, I lost the closest man in my life who was in my mind the father that I didn't have.
Although, I didn't know it for many years, in that moment, I decided that I no longer believed in family. What evidence do I have? All the people who are supposed to be there in my life, are not there in my life and if they are, they are going to leave anyway.
I thought family was supposed to be there for you, love you, accept you, be something you can count on, no matter what. I think we all intuitively expect that and most definitely every child deserves that kind of family.
Everything I had experienced in the most formative years of my life served to obliterate the ideas of what I though family should be.
I came to the realization recently that I stopped believing in family. It reminds me of the many people that I speak with who don't believe in God. I totally get it, for most of them, they feel that there couldn't be a God in this world, because they had been let down so many times. In there mind there is no possible way that a God could exist in a world like this.
I think I made a similar assumption about the concept of family. I didn't know that I made that decision when I was 4 years old, but I definitely lived the next 29 years of my life that way.
As I reflect on my life so far, I realize I have built my life so as to not rely or depend upon anyone, even my family. I've tried to do everything possible to not need to count on anyone. I'm determined to make enough money so I never, ever have to ask someone else for it. This is probably the biggest one, the idea of relying on someone else for money is terrifying.
So, I have an incredible drive to keep working, keep making more money, keep finances straight and save for retirement. Some people would call that discipline or determination, the truth is it's just deep rooted and profound terror of the idea of counting on someone else only to be disappointed again.
If I look more closely, it's in all of my behavior. This constant avoidance of counting on others or asking for support. I do whatever I can to avoid asking for a favor, I even try to sense other's needs so I don't make them uncomfortable.
This was all working "fine" until the last couple of years, going along pretending I didn't need anyone else, I got to achieve things, make money, look good, and never veer into the discomfort of being supported by others or being vulnerable with family and friends.
As my wife and I have begun to settle down and prepare to create a family, I realize the thing I really want in life is community, people to share this life with in an intimate, loving and supportive way.
Does anything really matter without having a community to experience it with?
The downside of course is that in order to have community, you have to BE in community. That means being intimate, vulnerable, needing support, giving support, getting support, sharing yourself with others even when it isn't perfect or you don't feel your best.
The inspiration for this post and my new realization about family came from attending my sister's wedding in Virginia Beach on June 27, 2015.
You see, although my father was never present in my life, he left behind three daughters who I get to call my sisters, 2 older, 1 younger. They were similarly abandoned by our father and I met them at age 13.
Although, we each had a profound connection from the first time we met, our relationship had remained fairly distant throughout the years. I blamed it on all sorts of things including our distance from each other (1 Arkansa, 1 in Florida and 1 in Virginia), I blamed it on being busy, being young and not growing up together.
At our youngest sister's beautiful beach wedding, we all came together for the first time in almost twenty years.
I was so surprised, more like shocked, by how excited they were for me to be there. I was overwhelmed by there love for me.
I DID NOT UNDERSTAND. I didn't believe that I had earned their love, aka, I wasn't enough of a brother to deserve their love for me.
And then, it dawned on me sitting their with my sisters at the marina side reception in Virginia Beach, the world I created where I stopped believing in family, where I gave up being loved and supported by others, was a world where I had to do something to deserve to be loved, I had to earn my family.
I realized that they loved me for no reason, the same way I love them for no reason, the same way we all love.
And that is the gift of family. To be loved for no reason, to be accepted and to be nurtured just because you are a human being.
For the first time in this world, I'm starting to feel like I belong to someone and something. Like someone has my back.
The biggest hurdle is to be willing to accept the possibility that you are worthy of love without doing anything, without earning it.
I want to close this by telling you what this means to me and my life in hopes that it inspires you to lean into your family and other important relationships.
Learning to allow love means that I can finally be at home and at peace. It frees me up to love the people in my life the way I intend to. It allows me to create intimacy and deepen the relationships with my family and friends.
Most importantly, the boy that was born on October 23, 1981 at 7:32 pm to a single mom in that hospital room, can now have the hole that was created by his absent father filled with more love, more nurture and more acceptance than he ever thought possible on that day 34 years ago.
Thank you so much to my beautiful sisters Alisha, Amelia and Tonya for gifting me with your love
for no reason and teaching me that I don't have to be alone in the world.
Some Practices to take away:
1. Who are the people in your life it feels most safe to practice allowing their love and support? Start with them. Let them love you and nurture you and tell you how amazing you are. Give them your trust.
2. Consider that love is not earned, that love doesn't speak in the language of deserving or not deserving.
3. Notice your fears around letting other people in to support you and the fears around allowing someone to love you and hold you. Notice that the fear is being with the prospect of being profoundly disappointed again, the way you were with your absent father. Consider that you've already survived the biggest disappointment and that you are strong enough and resilient enough to survive anything. Don't let that fear stop you having the community, the family and the friends that you yearn for.