“I’m sure I won’t get the lead. Why even try out?” I posited. I was fifteen years old, contemplating auditioning for the school play. On an unconscious level, I knew my comment would trigger an impassioned response from my father.
But rather than disagree with me about my declared lack of talent, he seemed to want to take a trip down memory lane.
“Do you remember when you were first learning how to ride a two-wheel bike? We went to the middle school track across the street and, as every kid learning to ride for the first time, you fell instantly. You may have tried one or two more times, but soon you gave up. It wasn’t until two years later that you decided to try again. Two years!
“And do you remember playing soccer in third grade? You were on a team with your best friend Rachel who was an excellent soccer player. You were very good, too. Your coach said you were fast. But you didn’t score any goals like Rachel did. She kept playing soccer for years after that. You, on the other hand, quit the league after one season.
“Or that jazz-tap dance class you took. There was a girl in it who had obviously been dancing since she was born and you felt insecure next to her. You quit that too.
“I’ve always been so concerned about you. I’ve been concerned that you’ll never engage in any activity long enough to enjoy it – that you won’t find any happiness because you’re so focused on being the best.”
I remember having a strong reaction to my father’s words — and probably not for the reasons one would think. Of course, I understood his point – he’d made it before: quitters never win and winners never quit.
But what struck me at that moment was that he remembered all of those instances from my childhood. He recalled them with such specificity. He had really taken notice of me and my quirks!
As the youngest of four, I had to compete for attention and, knowing me, I probably gave up on that too after a while. Here was my father telling me that he was very present for those episodes from the past. He was observing and he was analyzing. He spent time thinking about my errors. He worried about my future in consideration of them.
In other words, my father showed me that he saw me and he understood me – and that made me feel so special and loved.
Now that I’m a mother, I endeavor to make my twin daughters feel seen and understood. I want each child to be aware that I know her and appreciate her for the unique individual that she is. I want each child to know that I recognize what makes her tick because I took the time to contemplate her actions and I heard her when she told me her feelings and thoughts. I think every child deserves that. And I credit my father for helping me realize it.