I had a nice visit with my Dad and Stepmother yesterday for Father’s Day. As I was driving from their house thinking of our conversation, I began to think how my Dad has impacted my life and what I have learned from him. I realized one of things I have learned most from him, he may not even know he helped me find.
I have a few memories of things my Dad would say from my youth. One of those quotes that stayed with me was “People aren’t interesting unless they have a little texture.” In my youth, I interpreted that saying to mean I should appreciate people who speak their mind, people who are genuine, people who don’t always say things to make others feel better but speak from their heart. As I got older, sometime while I was in college, my interpretation expanded to mean that people are flawed, we are human, and that owning up to and accepting our flaws was an important part of life. Even as I was learning more about the world and about relationships, I still held onto beliefs of whom I needed to be and what my world was supposed to look like.
My worldview and dreams for myself at this time were confined by my experiences and expectations. In my college years, my parents got divorced. I really struggled to understand, and my worldview was challenged. I blamed my Dad to a large extent, and my relationship with him was strained. I didn’t know how to process my pain, and I couldn’t find a way to process and communicate how I felt. I was angry, and this anger needed an outlet. So, I blamed him. It was convenient.
Over many years I began to process and understand my emotions. I became more understanding as I lived through my life and experienced my own struggles and even went through a divorce myself. I had to realize my parents were human and not a mythical version of my guardians. My relationship with my Dad improved over the years, and we were able to communicate better and spend more time together. Time was healing our relationship.
Sometime in the last few years I heard the term “sonder” on a podcast from Seth Godin. I immediately wrote it down and it resonated with me.
Sonder – the profound feeling that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.
Hearing the definition of that term helped me find a larger understanding of looking for texture in people and how my Dad’s words have shaped my life. To understand where someone is coming from when they act and speak, you need to understand and have empathy for their lives. As I was driving away from my Dad’s house, I realized that the things my Dad had said to me and my struggles with my relationship with him were needed for me to keep an open heart. I needed to see that I was closed and that I was ignorant of someone else’s needs.
I am now a father and a stepfather. I have five children who are in my life that I care for and do my best to love and support. Connecting to and parenting my biological children seems to occur naturally, and I sense they are part of me. Even though there are times I struggle to be a great father to them. My step kids, I have committed to love, but their connection to me is part of a commitment I made to them and to their mom. It’s a conscious decision and connection, which has a difference.
Early in my relationship with my step kids I was seeking their approval. I was told by a psychologist that nearly every child of divorce will hold on to a fantasy that their parents will eventually get back together. So even if it is at a subconscious level, the kids are not excited I’m always around. Completing an action to get someone’s approval is not really a healthy approach to life, and when that someone is subconsciously processing, they should reject you, you also won’t get good results. In addition, when you do things with the intention of a response instead of just doing it because it means something to you, you are going to be disappointed, and that’s also not being generous or loving in the truest sense of the words.
I set up my heart and mind not to need any response to my actions to show them love, that I would love them because I claimed them as part of my family. They needed to do nothing to earn that. When my wife and I got married, we committed to be the best stepparents we can be, and that is all I needed.
I needed that open heart, I needed that understanding of texture, I needed that understanding of sonder to be the best person I can be for all my kids. So, through my struggle in my emotions and my relationship with my Dad, I learned how to open my heart and understand that everyone has their own story and their own dreams, their own pain, even our kids. Their lives won’t match our expectations because they can’t. Thank you, Dad, for helping me find my open heart.
So how does this impact my connection to fly fishing? I was talking with my friend Mark this week about the things we have learned from this season of mayfly hatches and how we were improving as fishermen. He said something that helped me connect all these pieces together as I was leaving my Dad’s house. He was telling a story of getting prepared to fish the green drake hatch a few weeks ago. He found a great spot along Penns Creek. A group of four guys set up to fish just upstream of him. They were drinking, carrying on, having a good time, but being loud and thrashing about in the water. They were in their own world. Just downstream of Mark, an older couple set up to fish. They quietly observed the river, took their time, watched the patterns of rising fish. The hatch went off and while the foursome was loud and active, they caught no fish and their frustration was evident. The woman next to Mark caught a beautiful brown trout. Mark, slightly annoyed with the foul language and behavior of the foursome, was so impressed by the woman. I asked him what he thought helped her be successful, and he said, “she let the river come to her”. She understood she was reacting to the texture and flow of the river and fish; she didn’t have to force any action.
This seems to be fitting now, with the state of the world and the division between people. We lack understanding of the things other people have experienced, how many forms of hate, abuse, prejudice and injustice have shaped people’s lives. We can’t see it because it’s not ours. We need to listen and be open hearted. We need to see we are part of something bigger, look for the texture in life, and let the river come to us.