Turning Points

I’ve had a rough week with my daughter Brianna, and today my mind went back in time and I was reminded of a moment when my dad was really angry with me. I was sixteen and it was late September and a bunch of my friends were gathering at Bob’s house after school. I wanted to be there too. My dad didn’t like Bob, but I’m not sure why. I truly think it was because my older brothers didn’t like Bob’s older siblings. I asked my dad if I could go and he said no. Uncharacteristic of me, I went anyway. And later that evening when I came home, my dad was furious with me—for disobeying him and for not calling to let anyone know where I was when I didn’t get off the school bus at home. My dad yelled at me that night. It was the first time he had ever done that and I was devastated. I knew what I had done was wrong and my heart ached with the guilt of having disappointed my dad. As it turned out, my dad and I never discussed that night again, and in my mind we never resolved our feelings. A little more than two months later my dad died. I carried guilt from that after-school outing through all of my life until last year, when a spontaneous email discussion helped me to finally have closure. You can read about it here.

In looking back on my life, I never considered that argument with my dad to be a turning point—the point at which a significant change takes place. In my mind, the death of my mom and then two years later the death of my dad combined into one major turning point. Everything about my life changed. Everything. Right down to my personality.

I was reminded of that argument with my dad in the midst of this tough week with Brianna. Yesterday morning I shouted at Brianna in much the same way my dad shouted at me all those long years ago. This argument with Brianna had been going on for a few days. With the help of modern technology, it had a longer than normal life through text messages on phones and instant messaging through the Internet. At one point in the argument Brianna extended it to include her three sisters by sending a Facebook message to us as a group. Now, as I write this and have some distance between me and this argument, I can smile about that. Imagine getting a group message on Facebook in which you’re thrust into the middle of an argument. You have no idea what started the argument, why such a trivial thing even matters, and how you got involved in the first place.

Kate, my oldest, brought a bit of perspective to the argument when she wrote about how she was holding a two week old baby with casts on both legs. It made the trivial argument seem so lame. Indeed it was. But each one of us knows that Brianna wasn’t really arguing about the trivial matter. What caused Brianna’s anger to rise was that she felt none of us were there for her when she needed us.

Feelings of abandonment are some of the most crushing feelings we can ever feel. Such feelings can be devastating and can take months, even years, to heal. It’s interesting for me to note that a majority of the turning points in my life occurred at moments when I felt all alone in the big, scary world. Sure there were family members around me and I had friends in my life but I didn’t feel they were really there for me. Maybe they thought they were helping or trying to help, but my feelings told me I was standing alone in the world. Because I felt I had no one but myself to rely on, and because I had this innate need to survive, I was forced to put one foot in front of the other and find my way. Maybe I am a stronger person for it. Maybe those moments wouldn’t have been such powerful turning points if I had had someone else to lean on and guide me.

Knowing today that my youngest daughter has those same feelings is tough to acknowledge. We live in the same house. We talk and interact every day. I thought I was helping and guiding. The last thing I’d want any of my children to feel is all alone in the world. It’s also tough to accept that I would yell at my daughter in the same way that my dad yelled at me, a moment that caused so much guilt and disappointment, that lasted most of my life. It was a turning point for me at sixteen. And now, it seems this new argument is another turning point for me. Will the argument of yesterday morning be a turning point for Brianna? Sure wish I had my dad to talk to about this one.

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