We were sitting in Starbucks. My dad and I. For those reading this and you know my dad, and Starbucks, go ahead and laugh. I wooed my dad to Starbucks with their lemon cake. If I went to Starbucks, after my writing, reading, and sipping was done, I’d grab a piece of lemon cake for him and he’d swing by my space to visit and indulge in lemony goodness. Our Sundays were busy and I’d soon be heading back to Maryland, so we decided to gather at Starbucks. He got his lemon cake and a mocha. We talked, laughed, and about an hour and a half later we parted ways. Not long after we parted ways he sent me a text thanking me and sharing he enjoyed himself. At 31 years old, it was the first time my dad and I went to Starbucks.
Fifteen years ago I sat in a different Starbucks with my mother. Instead of a tall soy green tea latte, I was sipping a tall vanilla latte. I shared with my mother that once in college I had no intent on maintaining a relationship with my dad. College was my out and I was using it as such. While I am sure many families have their share of dysfunction I was certain my family was one of the few who went back to the buffet of dysfunction for a second serving. I was too young at the time to see that my father was not the sole proprietor of the dysfunction which was why I had no interest in maintaining a relationship with him. Truthfully, I was not interested in maintaining a relationship with dysfunction.
Had you told me when I was fifteen that my dad and I would sit at a Starbucks, enjoy each other’s company, tease each other about our beverages of choice, I would not have believed you. I would have respectfully listened, maybe interrupted with slight protest, awkwardly and nervously laughed, and as soon as we parted ways rolled my eyes and called you a liar. Looking back, I just didn’t see that happening. It was not a part of my plan to work on myself and my relationship with my dad. How could it have been at 16?
At age 17 I decided to do some work, primarily at the encouragement of my mother. I started counseling the spring semester of my first year of college and stuck with it until my senior year spring semester. I only stopped seeing my counselor because I was at a different campus that semester.
At age 21, a few months after I graduated undergrad, started my first full time job at a non profit in downtown Philadelphia, my mother decided to leave my father after 22 years of marriage. At age 21, I decided that I was going to work on myself and my relationship with my dad. I decided to find a counselor, use my hard earned non profit not quite $30000.00 a year money to pay out of pocket, and go to counseling. At age 31, that decision was one of the absolute best decisions I have made.
Looking back, choosing to go to counseling taught me:
- I can ask for help and receive help.
- Asking for help is not a demonstration of weakness or incompetency.
- I am responsible for me.
- It’s okay to say no. People may not like it and that is for them to manage, not me.
- I am not my parents and I am not destined to their successes or failures.
- I am not my past; yet I can use it as a powerful tool to craft my future.
- Boundaries keep what needs to be in my life in and what needs to stay out of my life out.
- I’m not crazy and when I am in relationships or environments that constantly make me feel crazy it is appropriate for me to assess and exit as needed.
- Commitment is a choice and not a trap.
- It’s okay to not be in relationship with people who don’t know how to value me.
- It’s okay to disagree and to communicate that I disagree.
- I get to choose who is worthy of me sharing myself and my life with.
There are lots of other things I have learned from being in counseling over the years. Yet I find that these handful of takeaways are ones I refer back to from time to time. These are the ones weren’t a part of my upbringing, yet weren’t too late to learn and implement for a more grounded and joyful present,and certainly a more positive and hopeful future. These are the ones that I regularly remind clients, students, family members, ad friends of as they navigate their own life journeys.
We’ve spent the past couple of weeks talking about the power of looking back and even going back from time to time. It’s easy to let the past lay alone as a memory mentally shelved in a closet labeled “do not open.” It’s easy to not go back, or to decide that going back somehow either reflects poorly on us or is a badge of honor if going back proves difficult. If we can go back to that which was painful or hard then back can be a good thing. Poppycock.
The reality is that as long as we know when and how to let go of whatever happened in the “back,”we are fine. It’s when we don’t that we impede our present and either stumble towards or never get to our futures. When we allow going back to become mountains in the valleys of our lives, we risk never getting to our promised land. When we can look back or go back and see what we need to glean, gather it, and carry on, then that indeed is just another way we can be, do, and LIVE well.