When I have to stand in front and ‘present’ I get shaky. It isn’t long before I’m on the verge of tears and my breathing is off. Happened tonight when I had to speak to our board about our programs for people with special needs. Happens all the time and people always tell me it was fine and it invariably it was. I get through it, but I know this very real and very vulnerable part of me comes through. Maybe that’s good for my soul. It’s embarrassing, that’s for sure.
I’ll tell anyone who will listen to me before I have to present that I’m terrified. I’m not. I’m not even nervous. I’ve thought through what I want to say or it’s fully prepared and just needs to be read. Either way, I’m prepared. It’s just that I know how I’ll feel when I get up there and it’s better if they’re prepared. If I had to guess I’d say it’s a control issue. If I can convince people I know in the room that I’m terrified at least they’ll know I was overcoming something. Perhaps they’ll have sympathy. I have high minded ideals and I live up to them, but in practical terms I have a politicians approach to reframing failure. I lower the bar for success as far down as I can push it when it comes to certain things.
A few weeks ago I read a story, an emotional one, at the Dad 2.0 Summit in D.C. It was a packed room and even there, to my exhaustion, I went about preparing the couple of people I’d met the night before with my mannered and perfunctory repetition of how terrible I was at speaking and how nervous I was and how scared it was all making me. It’s not that it wasn’t true, it was, but it was exhausting. I’m glad I did it, though, as despite my most sincere efforts to keep myself in check, I once again stepped into the moment and immediately began to crumble. I got through it, but barely.
I think I’m doing more than just prepping an easier landing. I think I’m preparing them for what they’re going to see when I get up there. I’m preparing myself too by prompting them to reassure me that it’s all gonna be fine. I’m filled to overflowing in those moments with the ‘me’ that I know gets to hide in the backs of rooms, who takes comfort in blending knowing no one will pick him to participate. We have to make the world safe for ourselves and this is how I do it. But on some level, the amping up of my anxiety is me preparing myself to be exposed, naked in front of the world, the real world, the world of people in a room with me. Not like here. I can’t get ‘naked’ enough here, writing to you. See all of me. Know that I’m more sensitive than you imagined me, a man to be. Know how fragile and strong I can be when it comes to my kids. Being naked here, frankly, is my talent. That and the ability to ocassionally stumble upon a clever turn of phrase. Take these two together and you have seen the entirety of my artistic arsenal. That’s it. It’s what I got. But put me in front of people, real people and make me talk about my kids, or even my work, and I can’t help but get emotional.
Everyone sees nerves. I’ve pointed them there. It’s what I want them to think. But it’s not nerves. In a situation like the one at the Summit, it’s evident. I cracked and froze on all the parts you would if it was your heart breaking in public for all to see. Breaking at the thought of pain affecting those you love, at the memories of regrets and missed opportunities. Naked fear for my kids and the common everyday tragedies they’ll endure even if there life is charmed. Those cracks in my voice and the tears that well up at those times are all my love being put in the hands of toddlers who trade me all of theirs and me wondering if I can carry the weight of all their tomorrow’s. Of seeing that they don’t yet know that the component parts of their love are joy and hope and belief and desire and me knowing it’s my job to care for that love when it gets battered, bruised and wounded. Burdened by the knowledge that love will disappoint them, dishearten them. I just hope I can manage the load long enough for them to learn that it doesn’t dessert them. That love can disappoint but that it will always be waiting to start anew and they will always be worthy of it. The love they’ve given me is bottomless and I’ll endure, always at the ready.
I know this because I learned it from my mom. The same way I learned that loving my kids unabashedly and steadfastly, loudly and proudly was the only way to know they would eventually come to understand how deserving they were of all of it and more. Same way I learned from my mom that a life of helping others was the only kind that was worth living and it was the truest way to find contentment and happiness. Same way I learned that she loved me no matter how many times I was hurtful toward her, when I would yell as a teen or go weeks without calling as an adult, a thing I’m still prone to do. Her love’s constance was a wisdom I didn’t understand, couldn’t until I met my kids. They taught me how to see all my mom was and is and always will be.
When I get up there in front of people and I start to talk about my work or my kids and I start to get emotional it’s because of this. It’s because no matter how much I may have pushed, no matter how different we may be, everything about me that is of value is rooted in what I learned by being loved and it simply overwhelms me.