When I stepped out into the bright sunlight…no, not really. That is the opening salvo of a great American classic of my generation entitled “The Outsiders,” the writing of which I could not hold a candle to but I can gratuitously quote! Let’s try again shall we?
“DAAAAADDDDD!!!!! Come quick!”
“Wha-Wha’s going on?”
Daddy surfaces from a much needed midafternoon nap in the man cave to the sound of a screaming 9-year-old. He leaps from the sofa. Half asleep, el jefe hustles to the door where blood curdling screams are emanating from just outside and to his surprise, he finds “Snow?” Eyes blink in confusion. A quick date check in his mind verifies it to be late July. “Still sleeping.” he mutters to himself….and then? He remembers he has a son. He remembers he has his son. Eyes widen in anticipatory panic, darting to and fro.
Junior is kneeling in a corner of the porch landing, fiddling with something in the corner by the door. Preparations begin in daddy’s mind for whatever consequences may be coming for this junior-caused-snow-catastrophe in late July. Eyes, now attentive, are greeted by a little man on a mission; one who is killing a spider, a very elegant black spider adorned with a red hour glass…armed with a can of artificial snow.
“Very creative!” thinks daddy.
And then, as memories of his own morbid childhood fascination with Black Widows surface from the inky black bottomless pit known as the shadow of the subconscious, daddy meekly exclaims to the four winds of fate….
And so begins a new lesson of terror brought to me (and you) by that midnight clad, velveteen arachnid known as the Black Widow. Gracias huh? A most unpleasant, yet very enlightening little teacher. Last hatching season, I wrote a piece entitled "Black widow lessons : Mastering Fear" http://www.examiner.com/article/black-widow-lessons-mastering-fear. The column outlined a major phobia I had been dealing with for what seemed to me, a lifetime. Indeed it was. Daddy has been dealing with Black Widows off and on since childhood. I never thought however, that a lifetime of fear could actually snowball into a generation of it.
Every year of fatherhood brings new emotions, new thoughts and of course, a new awareness of what it means to actually live life dedicated, at least in some large or small part, to the health and well-being of another human soul. Little did I know when I rebooted my life for like, the umpteenth time (by the Grace of God’s willingness, permanently!) that I would, if I did not put my demons to rest, pass this burden on to my children. When this realization triangulated, froze and then promptly assaulted my brain while watching my son, who at the same time was freezing a spider with snow, the entire bottom dropped out of my gut and my gizzards essentially liquefied. It was quite possibly the loneliest, most impotent feeling I have ever experienced.
It is a helpless, empty awakening to open the mindful eye and find that you as a parent have taught your children how to fear, more specifically, how to fear what you fear...and have quite possibly saddled said child with a burden you, up until now, have been incapable of dealing with and more than likely, have spent a significant amount of time running from.
Dramatic? Possibly. Spider drama? Not exactly. Consider this. Addiction is as much a learned Bx (Behavior) if not more than it is a genetic issue. We may (and it is highly probable) in fact be predisposed to addiction, but without being taught the how of it, we will never hatch that nest of tragedies. If the Bx is never modeled (or at least controlled/limited) in adolescence and early onset….ummm…teenagerness, then the fears and self-hatreds that go along with addiction will never take root and begin the feeding process on the hearts of our children. These bottom dwelling emotions will never have had an opportunity to take hold, fester and spread.
In my mind, there are two reasons why addiction is passed on to our children. The first, genetics, is entirely out of our control while the second, learned Bx, sits squarely within our central sphere of influence to use a Coveyism, and is completely within our control. We can pattern healthy living or we can exemplify dangerous living and the risky behavior that tags along. Both are choices we can make. Both are choices we can avoid. And both are choices we will teach our children how to accomplish themselves.
My phobia of Latrodectus mactan (Black Widow), if you have yet to make the connection, is also a metaphor of addiction. It always has been. My night terrors referenced in the initial article were deeply entwined with my inability to control my environment which produced, at least in me, a gargantuan fear of the future.... more specifically, of controlling the future. Combine that with significant loss and perceived rejection (love gone bad according to me) within the scope of my personal relationships, and you have a hot mess, ripe and ready for a crutch. Enter in the predisposition of genetics and the presence of vast amounts of alcohol at the most formative of times, college, and you have a perfect swarm of gnawing, biting, stinging fears that cripple and gnaw away at human reason and decision making.
Essentially, the control I seem to have been seeking grew ever more and more elusive as I myself pin wheeled completely out of control, spinning off into an oblivion of bad choices and slavery, while at the same time grasping for anything and everything to help me feel better, to somehow regain my control.
I was in the ring with a nine hundred pound gorilla, thinking I could win, while getting pummeled. In that moment, when I saw the boy repeating actions I myself did close to 35 years ago, I witnessed my son getting in the ring with the same nine hundred pound gorilla, attempting to battle him in my place...because I did not.
This was my burden…not his. I felt it then, and I feel it now. Still think it’s dramatic? There are always layers to fear and for the most part, the first several layers are nothing but symptoms of a deeper need. That need for me, was control. I found it (or at least the illusion of it) in the whiskey bottle as I discovered how useful it was in manipulating reality. Do I really want that for my children? No way! Would I wish the whiskey madness on my worst enemy? Not even a thought. If this is the case, and it is, than why am I teaching my lil whippersnapper to fear the very things that led me into the alcoholism in the first place? I may not drink around my kiddo, I do not drink at all at this point, yet I still model the Bx that fixed me within that particular web of darkness to begin with. Why? Because I have yet to put these fears and "angries" to rest. I have yet to deal with my something’s en toto, in a manner that no longer shows itself in my natural Bx around my son. He notices. He sees things in me that I barely recognize in myself.
When I try to control the environment, he seeks control. When I seem out of control? He stresses and feels out of control himself. There is a cycle here that is as insidious as the mating cycle of Black Widows, feeding on those we need the most. What we carry within us, the demons and the shadows that haunt us, they seem to notice this and they feed on those we care about as we hide in silence, watching our children become us and consequently, deal with the same exact issues we were never able to resolve.
What did I see when I marked my young son spraying down a Black Widow in a corner with a can of fake snow? I saw myself. I saw myself when I was wee, carrying a magnifying glass instead of snow, all at once fascinated and repulsed by the symbol of a nightmare that haunted my dreams.
I didn’t like seeing this in junior. I didn’t like the way this made me think and feel about myself as a father and a man. I was angry at myself. Deeply angry. And of course, right on cue, I could hear how many eff bombs I have “accidentally” dropped. Visions of all the little somethings...images of all the various little outlets masquerading as comforts I use to deal with my perceived need for control assaulted my thinking, shaking my thoughts down to the very confidence said thoughts need to exist and thrive. There was madness in that instant, or at least the temptation of it, as what little control I thought I had achieved as a parent flew by me, making an exit through a very specific window of hopelessness. "Can I really do this? I don’t think I should be here. He deserves so much more than I could give."
Doubt my friends, is a killer to an addict. Doubt is a killer for anyone trying to better themselves. The solution though, is not about anger. Nor is it about doubt and shame, which are both huge temptations to a recovering perfectionist like myself. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, I refuse to let anyone else in my life use shame against me as a motivator; therefore I have no right to do it either. It just isn’t happening. There is for me now though, a heightened sense of focus that goes beyond this father at this point in his recovery. Daddy has some serious work to do. Change is such a tramatic word and yet the results can be life saving. It only takes a decision followed then, by a footstep. We all have proverbial mirrors in front of us within the faces of our children. Not so much the look of our kids, that’s easy. No, it is within the actions of our children that we find ourselves. They do…what we teach.
“Daddy? Can you kill this spider? It just won’t die.”
“Why, yes son. I can.”
“Really?” His eager eyes seek to model my ugly coolness.
“But I do in fact, have a better idea. Let’s go find a mason jar…..”