Wake Up, Daddy!

This post is in response to a request from a friend on FB who asked me to explain what I meant by "separate from your ego" in my second post. I also promised to make a reference to burritos, so FWIW, there you go!

This "Married Guy Response" by Dave Carter is the third in a series. To read the first post, click here. To read the second post, click here.

On a bright, sunny morning in 1991, my two year old daughter came into my bedroom and said “Wake up, Daddy!”

Her mother and I had filed for divorce a few months earlier, but we were still living in the same house. My soon-to-be-ex and my daughter had their own bedrooms upstairs, and I had a room downstairs.

As I sat up and looked at my baby girl's angelic little face, it hit me. This ritual we had, of her coming to wake me up every morning, one of my favorite things, would soon have to end, when it was time for me to move out...

Suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with sadness.

Up to that moment I had led a pretty charmed existence in middle class America. Separation from my child was the most painful thing I had ever faced. It literally brought me to my knees.

After the divorce, living in my own place and sharing custody, I went on with my life, trudging to and from work, and paying bills, but I was a zombie. I was one of the many walking wounded who live among us...

Fast forward about a year or so.

I was trying to write my first screenplay, and it dawned on me that a good script is essentially a blueprint for actors. I needed to learn what cues actors look for in a script, so to gain some actual acting experience, I begged a local casting director to let me into an 10-week acting class she was teaching. Reluctantly, she let me in.

At the end of 10 weeks, each of the students in the class was supposed to perform on a stage in front of a live audience. I was to recite a three-minute monologue from memory, and then, get this: sing a song my character would sing, and then dance a dance my character would dance...

The very thought of this terrified me. I can’t sing, and I really, really shouldn’t dance...! No problem, though, I figured I'd just bail out near the end, after I had learned "enough" about acting.

To my utter surprise, the teacher threw me out in just the third week, when I got the giggles during a group exercise. She walked over, put her hand on my shoulder, and gently suggested that I look for a more introductory-level class.

On the long drive home, in the solitude of my car, I felt a mixture of disappointment and relief, but I also noticed a recurring pattern in my life. I had received a LOUD MESSAGE many times prior to this from “The Universe”, but this time the message hit me like a feather... and I finally heard it.

The message was: “Your relationships always end. And when they do, people are not necessarily mad at you, but they are also not sorry to see you go.”

No one in that class had stood up and said, “Hey, Dave’s a good guy. So what if he got the giggles. Let him stay.” One by one they all just shook my hand and said, “See ya, Dave.”

I thought about all of the jobs I’d had up to that point in my life -- I had attended many farewell lunches, but no one had ever thrown one for me. I thought about my divorce -- how no one cried...

Hmmm. I must be doing something that alienates people. But what is it?

I worried that if I didn’t figure this out and handle it, my daughter might also not be sorry to see me go someday. And the fear of losing my relationship with her made me willing to do whatever I needed to do.

I began searching for answers, and I mentioned my quest to my boss, whom I felt I could trust because she'd been thru a divorce and a bankruptcy. She told me she’d been thru 10 years of psychotherapy, but none of it was as helpful as a weekend seminar she'd attended called “More to Life.”

“I have no interest in one of those EST seminars,” I told her, “I have nothing in common with people who are willing to pay $400 to sit in a chair for a weekend.” She said the class is not EST, that it was created by two former Episcopalian ministers who are also shrinks.

“I don’t want to have to adhere to a particular religion or belief system in order to get better,” I said. She said belief in a higher power is OK, but not required, and that if for ANY reason I am unsatisfied, the class has a money-back guarantee.

So, with nothing to lose but my time, I agreed to give it a shot. “Besides,” I thought, “If this doesn’t work, I have to go find a shrink who is smarter than me --- that won’t be easy...!!”

In the class, as people stood and shared their stories, I learned that many had been significantly abused in some way. I figured OK, I’m addicted to chocolate, I sleep a little too much, and people are not sorry to see me go. My problems are insignificant compared to the rest of these folks.

So I chose to remain silent.

Long story short, on Saturday night we were led thru a meditation in which we allowed ourselves to go back in time and relive a moment of our choosing, but a moment about which we still felt some emotion.

I (bravely) chose to examine that moment when my daughter came into my room and woke me.

We were asked to jot down all of the decisions we found ourselves making at that moment -- voices in our head about what we’d do differently from now on. Later, we looked at any assumptions we made and grouped these as true, false, or don’t know.

In this process I discovered that in order to avoid shame, I tend to make self-serving assumptions. (Have you ever caught yourself doing this?)

What was TRUE for me at that moment was that I felt very sad, but rather than allow myself to display shameful emotion, I chose to be angry. I made the DECISION that the pain I felt was my soon-to-be-ex-wife’s fault, rather than a result of choices I’d made.

I was the petitioner in my divorce, but if I could somehow blame her for it, then it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t the result of actions I was taking.

This single assumption (which enabled the choice to resent her) was also justifying whatever selfish choices I wanted to make next, like not paying child support on time, or treating my ex with disrespect.

The payoffs for making an assumption can be HUGE. But what about the costs...? I thought again about my recurring pattern, about how I didn't want my daughter to someday also not be sorry to see me go.

Suddenly it became clear to me that my self-serving assumptions were not actually SERVING me, because my tendency to believe the “little lies” in my head whenever it suited me to do so was probably why people were not sorry to see me go.

As long as avoiding shame (protecting my ego) was my first priority, I was not able to fully commit to any class I attended, or to any job I took, or to ANY relationship I had. I couldn’t even commit to the relationship I had with my own health, or my own bank account.

When I got married I said “I do”, but what I really meant was, “I do... until I don’t.” Even keeping my word to my spouse was less important to me than preserving my "self".

So, even though I was basically a nice guy, people sensed that I was fundamentally unreliable. Ouch.

As soon as I understood this logic, I decided to change -- to start valuing my word and clearing out "feel good" assumptions. It was as if someone had finally handed me a pair of glasses with a proper prescription.

Later in the class I stood and shared what I felt at that moment when my daughter woke me. As the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t embarassed. Instead of continuing my old pattern of worrying about feeling inferior, or of clinging to a notion of superiority, for the first time in my life I experienced a new feeling: one of being genuinely EQUAL.

Equal, and hence, free to take risks without nearly as much fear of shame. Free to be more creative more often. Free to be more accepting and forgiving of others. Free, literally, to BE.

My spiritual awakening had begun, prompted ironically by my daughter’s words that morning: "Wake up, Daddy!"

Since then, learning to value my word and discard self-serving beliefs has enabled incredible success in all arenas of my life. Nowadays I am free to sing, to dance, even to post "embarassing" blogs...

I am also happy to report that, these days, when I have to leave a place, people are more reluctant to see me go, especially my daughter ...and her two younger sisters.

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