Writing About My Father, Day 9
I have always had champions. In seventh grade, the young Mrs. McGrath (as opposed to her mother-in-law who taught me in fifth grade) encouraged my nascent writing skills. In high school, I found Fish who took me out to dinner once in a while before play practice, and Sister Ann who one day let me stand in the front of her classroom while she was teaching, typing up a playso I could send it out to a contest. In college, though I tended to not speak to my professors unless I absolutely had to, Lew Barlow helped me figure out how to get credit for an internship though I wasn’t able to land one (I instead received credit for temping at PC Magazine all summer), and my Italian teachers encouraged me to study abroad in Italy. In Chicago, I had “The Divas,” my writing group so christened by Maureen Seaton in whose workshop we all met, all older than me, who poked me and prodded me in to risking more with my poems and sending work out into the world. And I had Stephanie and her family, who became my family for most of the time I lived in Chicago, helping me get a job and taking care of me when I had my cornea transplant. I continue to have champions today—bosses who have seen something in me that I never guessed at, a Pastor who values my advice, editors who promote and publish my work, a sister who’s my relentless cheerleader, and friends who never cease to build me up. And, of course, there’s God who never ceases to send champions my way, sometimes in the most unexpected shapes and from the most unexpected places.*
Yet, with all that has been sown into my life by way of encouragement and favor, I still struggle with feeling less than and not enough. I’ve come to realize that that is one of the legacies of having parents who didn’t build me up, who treated my accomplishments lightly if they recognized them at all. I’m not saying that I agree that kids should be awarded for everything they do, but to consistently pull straight As and get no sign of praise from the two people who, as a kid, you think are the utmost authorities on when you’ve gotten it right and when you haven’t, well, that does something to you. To have parents who are constantly critical of your body at a time when you are only starting to understand that having hips and a behind doesn’t make you fat, that’s what makes a self-fulfilling prophecy of thinking you are “the fat girl” long before you are actually overweight. Most of all what it does is it makes it near impossible for your to believe it when other people say you are smart, you are special, you are beautiful, you are talented. In my case, I think I sometimes find myself mistrusting those voices, thinking “Sure I got this right, but you don’t know about everything else I’ve screwed up or done wrong?”
It makes you wary of sharing yourself fully with other people—what if they stumble upon the monster in you that your parents can see, that made it impossible for them to be your champions? It also makes it difficult to ask for help. Why would someone want to help a person who is of no value? Why would people rally around to help you through a difficult surgery or difficult time n your life when you’re nothing special?
It has taken me a long time to realize that that there is no monster in me. That my parents couldn’t be my champions because of who they are, not because of who I am. I know that I don’t yet believe that down to every strand of DNA, but I’m getting there, learning that sometimes it’s actually okay to believe the hype. That irregardless of my size or my publication history or where I live or how I spend my money, I am, in fact, worth something. I am learning day by day to be my own champion, to be my own champion and mean it.
*If i listed all of my champions, this blog would be three hours long. So forgive me if your name is not on this list. I assure you it’s on the list of champions I keep in my heart.