Last week, I asked my AP English III students to take some advice from The Scarlet Letter, which they had just finished reading in class. Near the end of the novel, Hawthorne writes “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred.” Our challenge to the kids was to do just that. I asked them write about traits or issues which they have that they want to work on. Bravely expose their shortcomings to the world. It would be hypocritical of me to ask that of my students if I’m not willing to do the same, so here goes nothing….
This is not easy or comfortable for me, and that is due largely to my one huge, overriding flaw. I have very low self-esteem, and it is this, which I dislike most about myself, that causes and affects all of my other flaws. My short temper, my laziness, my over-competitiveness, my jealousy of others. I can trace all of these to my low self-esteem.
Without getting into too much psycho-analysis here, this probably goes back to my relationship with my father, though not in the way people usually use that statement. Usually, when an adult male talks about character flaws being connected to “my relationship with my father,” he’s talking about the negative things… fights, unreasonable expectations, absence, emotional distance, abuse, etc. My issues, however, are the exact opposite and stem from one basic image I’ve had of my father since I was a child. He’s too perfect.
My dad was a high school All-American football player who dated the head cheerleader and valedictorian. He literally married the prettiest and smartest girl in school at 18, and they’re still in love 45 years later. He was a successful high school football coach who inspired his athletes and was adored by them. He opened his own successful business, sold it for good money, and opened another one. He was the church deacon whom everyone looked up to. He was a part-time pulpit preacher at the country church where his grandfather had preached. He ran dozens of marathons under a 7-minute mile pace. He rode his bike across Texas. He opened his home to 42 foster kids. He hosted 15 foreign exchange students. He beat cancer. At 65, he can hop on a bike and out-ride most men half his age. My mom always said that if we were in an Indian tribe, my dad would be the chief. He’s the guy other men look to when things go bad. He never laid a hand on me in anger. He never missed an important swim meet, wrestling match, football game, or baseball game. He told me he loved me every day. My adult friends always told me how much they admired him. My female friends always told me how handsome he was. My male friends always admired how strong he was.
How do I live up to that? In my mind, I can’t. As much as I look up to that man, when I look in the mirror all I see is the opposite. I see all the ways in which I don’t feel like I measure up. And this low-self image affects everything. I have a short temper that comes out when I feel like I can’t do something (usually mechanical), which makes me feel stupid. I do endurance sports because my natural inclination is to be lazy, sit on the couch, and eat junk food, but signing up for huge challenges that scare the heck out of me forces me to get out and be active. I hate losing because it makes me feel inadequate. (“Why could that guy do it better than me?”) From board games, to races, to arguments with the people I love the most, I HAVE to win, even if it sometimes means being a jerk to do so. When I see people who make a lot of money and are good with money, I get jealous because I feel like a poor, broke, teacher, afraid to take any real financial risks in life.
Everything I dislike the most about myself, the things I try to hide from the world, are the things that come out when I’m at home, tired, frustrated, sad, stressed from work, worried about bills, etc. And who is the person who sees those sides of me the most? My son. The one person whose opinion I value the most (because I want someone to see me the way I see my dad) is the person who has seen me at my absolute worst. This, of course, leads to me feeling even LESS like the man/father I wish I could be, and that’s the cycle of my life. Compare myself to Dad. Come up short. React in a negative way. Feel like a failure. Compare myself to Dad, again. Come up short, again. React in a negative way, again… etc.
I love my dad. I admire him more than I can say. Having him as a father was the greatest thing a kid could ask for. It’s also the hardest.