“Freedom is the capacity to pause in the face of stimuli from many directions at once and, in this pause, to throw one’s weight toward this response rather than that one.” Rollo May in The Courage to Create.
I’m not always sure what I’m doing. In fact, I rarely am at the moment. I can feel like I’m swept along by decisions I made and the real world of relational encounters. Wants seem to drive me. I want a doughnut. I want my next coffee, but then wish I hadn’t had that last one. I just want some peace and quiet. I just want this day to go well. I just want my sons to get along. I want a full night’s sleep.
Life as a dad can be hard.
But, life as a dad can be harder when we are only ever swept along.
I need to pause. Not the pause that’s merely a brief break before re-entering the flow while my mind continues to rush. Rather, a pause where I can find my stillness again. The pause of an Olympic diver just before they choose to jump in. The pause where I can rediscover my capacity to choose and act.
I think such a pause involves three parts....
A pause to wonder.
What’s behind the craving for doughnuts? Is it more than just tiredness? Is it more than a depleted willpower? What is the sugar hit giving me? What’s the real end my body craves? What’s the hole it’s trying to fill? What’s more important or urgent to me than a break in the day that means I only ever want it to be given to me, rather than ask or make it? What’s more important or urgent to me than making decisions that will help change the course of the day, the course of how my boys relate, the course of the night. What’s blocking me taking action? I suspect many of these questions have the same answer: I crave for connection, the relational contact that the demands and busyness of dadhood can make more difficult. Many compulsions find their root in some sort of isolation.
A pause to feel.
Now, the pressures of being a dad can make feeling particularly dangerous. Is it OK to feel the envy or regret that rush through our bodies? Is it OK to feel the frustration, resentment, struggle and desire to walk away? Where will these feeling end? But the unfelt feelings will make themselves felt more forcefully eventually. I need to feel all this, and more. I need to feel the guilt I have about not being good enough for them. I need to feel the disappointment I have about how my life is compared with how I’d hoped it would be. I need to feel the harshness, the relational coldness or withdrawal, I give out in resentment. I need to feel the isolation that this life is currently immersing me in. Avoiding our feelings is just another way to keep on going regardless.
A pause to decide again.
To choose if I’m really happy with the decisions I am making now. Not the decisions I made back then. Not the decisions that of course blocked off a thousand other lives that can haunt and taunt us with regret and envy. No, the decisions I am making now. And the big ones too. Am I OK with choosing each day to be here, in this family, with this job? Are there parts I’m not OK with? What am I going to do about the things that really get to me? What am I going to do to reconnect or revitalise or rediscover the joys and meaning of dadhood, teamwork, intimacy and purpose. When I make these decisions, I regain my self. I regain, as Rollo May would say, my freedom.
It's easy to talk about such pauses. I believe such pauses are powerful. Of course I do. I'm a therapist and the whole concept of therapy could be called such a pause. But I still run from them because I think I’ll be overwhelmed if I pause and face all the rushing rivers of feeling and anxiety that I am floating along. Perhaps I’ll stop, fall and never get up again. Perhaps my feelings and wonderings will run riot or sink me. It can feel easier just to turn the TV on at the end of the day and distract myself until I do a re-run tomorrow.
But the pause means I actually live my life. The pause means I feel my life: yes, all the inconvenient and awkward feelings I'd rather not - even the painful ones - but also the joys and comforts and excitements and laughs. The pause means I won’t wake up in five years utterly depleted, resentful, alone and convinced of my inadequacy. The pause means I’m free to shape what my life - and my family’s life - will look like in five years, ten years and even twenty years’ time, according to where I want to throw my weight.
So, when do I need to do this? The answer is probably rather soon. When could I do it? The answer will be when is best for me to reflect as much as when is a practical time for others. A final question I might need to work out is, how could I ask for it? The answer is probably to keep it simple. 'I need some time. I think this would work. What do you think?'