Family dinner, IT’S A BOY!, & a journey to feeling…

One of my favorite things at this phase of life is getting together with my family – my kids, their spouses/fiance’ & families – for a meal. Being able to gather in one of our houses for a couple hours of good talks, laughter, fun, & of course food. This last Saturday we got together at Joey & Grace’s place for an early dinner – tacos. It was a little surreal for theBean & me as we brought drinks & let the rest of the family take care of the cooking. And goodness! Those Locke girls are really great cooks! I could get used to this.

Upon our arrival, we discovered that the girls had planned a surprise for us – not only were we going to eat great food… it was a gender-reveal party for Johnny & Joelle’s little 22-weeks-along-or-so biscuit… our grandbaby. They were really creative in how they set up the living room/kitchen… there was a white board where everyone not in the know could place their vote (Mister or Miss)… pink & blue balloons abounded… as did white-chocolate covered pink & blue popcorn… Nuts or No-Nuts M&M’s… lots of fun.

And then it was time to find out… a closed box full of chocolate strawberries was produced & Joelle teased the moment just long enough for my emotions to kick-in & my eyes to get misty… & then she popped the lid… IT’S A BOY! They’re having a boy. Which means grandson #3 for us. We couldn’t be happier.

Up until I was about 30 years old, I would have had a difficult time identifying the majority of emotions I felt. Mostly I cultivated a stoic, Spock-like (or Lt. Data, pre-emotion chip, for you TNG fans,) visage to cope with the overflowing cauldron of unidentified, powerful, & often incapacitating feelings swirling around somewhere near where I’d identify the location of my guts.

Sorting through faded memories I remember some of my early life’s painful things: being bullied… I was a pretty small kid who turned his L’s & R’s into W’s, which made me the target of a handful of boys (& one 5th grade girl) at ages 5 & 6. Being mocked for wearing Toughskins jeans sized “Husky” (which evidently got translated as “Fat” by my 3rd grade class). Being picked last for sports. Abuse at the hands of a relative. Being told in 6th grade I didn’t have a good voice for public speaking (I had had to do a speech for reading class & after I finished my ‘helpful’ teacher was evidently trying to point me away from a career path where I’d have to talk in public…) The list goes on.

I also remember GOOD memories. Positive things. Finding out I was going to be a big brother, 3x/over. Excelling in school. Making a real friend who would stand with me. Parents who worked long hours at multiple jobs to provide for our family. Falling in love with the Giants via my transistor radio & a headphone… knowing in the deepest part of me that I knew Jesus Christ, & even more importantly, He knew me too.

Through all of it, good & bad, joy & pain, I never really knew what to do with my feelings when they rose up, other than not being quick to get angry… (learned that from the Bible). So, I kinda just let them be, not realizing the impact that would have on my own life, but especially on my relationships with others. I kept people at a distance (physical & emotional). I rarely shared my real thoughts & feelings with others, & the few times I really risked, my over-correction/self-protection responses kicked in at the speed of a snapping resistance band that’d been stretched too far. This led to me being angry a lot of the time… or at least on the verge of being angry. Loved ones, esp. theBean, Pasty, iDoey, & theWeez, walked on egg-shells around me, never knowing what would make me ‘snap.’ And I never cried.

So what changed when I hit 30? I came home from work & heard my oldest son say, “Dad’s home!” This was accompanied by the sound of little feet scampering… AWAY from the front door. They all ran to hide. In their rooms. I was crushed… & asked theBean if I was really as bad as it seemed I was… & she bravely answered my pop-the-lid-off-the-can-of-worms question truthfully. And hearing her answers, watching her tears, & seeing her pain (& fear) hurt worse than just about anything I’d ever been through… I hated this, & felt powerless to do anything about it.

And then I felt a nudge. “Go see a counselor.” A guy I’d grown up with had just moved back into the area to open a counseling office… & his name was the one that I believe God popped into my head… so I called his office, & made an appointment. I saw him 12 times, (1x/week for 12 weeks). There were no real “A-ha” moments in those weeks, no ground-breaking, earth-shattering times when the angels sang, the heavens parted, & the lights shone down on me. But something definitely changed, or at least began to change. The counseling sessions, the questions asked, & the investment of money we really didn’t have to spare (still remember it was $120/session…) coupled with my drive for self-improvement & the insights of the Holy Spirit helped me identify WHAT I was feeling… another dear friend & mentor, Chuck, helped me through countless conversations & questions discover how to find out WHY I was feeling what I was. Through it all I was growing in what I’ve since discovered is called “Emotional Intelligence.” 

And then one day I was wrestling with a general feeling of “blah.” Like I was stuck in emotional quicksand, aware of the overwhelming-ness of being down in a hole with no real idea or ability to get out. I remember asking myself out loud, “WHAT is wrong with me?” And I got a response from the Holy Spirit… “You need to grieve the loss of your brother.”  I had no idea what that meant. I thought I’d done that when he’d died 11 years earlier.. How was I supposed to grieve him again?

So I talked myself through it, & verbally identified different feelings I had surrounding the memories of the discovery of Johnny’s cancer. The months of separation, distance, & treatment. Good news from the doctors only to be followed by news of a relapse. Nothing more to be done. The anger I felt at the nurse who asked him, “So, you want to die here in the hospital or at home…” His last weeks. Our last conversation. My heaven-directed, heart-rending desperate prayer in my parents driveway, asking for a hope-beyond-hope miracle. The phone call that came on Fathers’ Day, June 16, 1990 at the crack of dawn/doom. The empty spot in my heart. The funeral. The conversations with well-meaning friends who, not knowing what to say, said stupid things anyway. (NOTE:” If you don’t know what to say, limit your words. Sometimes your presence does more than any words you could say.” -Jerry Cook.)

And the tears started to flow. Like a summer rain, it started slow & then turned into a tempest. I was crying. Snotty-faced, out of control, can’t breathe, no sounds coming out/terrible anguish sounds coming out – Crying. The dam in my soul that had been there seemingly my whole life broke. And not just a little. It BLEW UP.  And I cried. About everything. Nothing. It felt like I spent the next year crying, & I didn’t know how to make it stop. Chuck wisely said, “Well, maybe you’re just catching up on all the years you DIDN’T cry.” And he smiled when he said it.

I don’t think any of my kids remember their dad who didn’t cry & who was pissed off most of the time. What they remember (& rehearse to the point that it’s an inside joke) is that I am a crier. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry at movies. When I listen to really great music. I cry when I’m proud of them, & I cry when they hurt. TheWeez said she didn’t want me to do her wedding because, after all, “You’ll just be a crying mess. You can sit in the front row & do that.”  She knows me :).

And so I go back to Saturday, to the gender-reveal party… I had already cried at finding out they were pregnant. And in that moment right before the pink box was opened to let us know IT’S A BOY!, I felt the flood of emotion overcome me. By this point in my life, I have gotten more comfortable with my feelings & emotions, & its not a foregone conclusion anymore that I’m going to be a weepy & melty mess when it happens. I can remember thinking, “K.I.T. Keep It Together.” And I only cried a little bit. A couple tears, rolling down the face in a most-meaningful way.

And we celebrated our soon-coming grandson. And a growing family. And I thought about the  journey of emotional discovery, growth, & freedom of the last 16 years… & I’m so thankful for a God who wouldn’t leave me bottled up & broken, but who answered my prayers with people to help me.