My 3-year-old told me today, “Well, you don’t have to keep telling me that you love me all the time, Daddy, because I already know that.” He knows everything. I responded, “Yeah, but that is how I really feel right now, so I am telling you.” I bet that I tell my kids “I love you” 50 times a day. Each! I smother them with hugs and kisses. My emotions are right on my sleeve. Thankfully, they are positive ones. I am trying to keep it real with them. I want them to know just how much I love them. But more than that, I am also trying to be an example to them about emotional honesty. I want them to feel confident in telling their Truth, to not shy away from their emotions.
We teach what we most need to learn. I wish I was a good example about owning my feelings and sharing them honestly. I want to be. But I have to admit that it is something I have always struggled with. Like the Jim Morrison quote above, my sensitivity has often gotten so squashed in trying to put on a tough, polished exterior that I have really blown it in some important moments. In trying to minimize and put a shine on my real emotions, I have come off blunt, even callous. I have gotten in my own way.
“But I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.” So says Bob Dylan, and I hope I am becoming that way, too. Kids are such good examples of honesty. Their emotions are like mercury, changing drastically with the conditions from moment to moment. When they go from crying one minute to laughing the next, most of us jaded parents take that to mean they were faking the crying part. Though I don’t discount that entirely, I think it is actually more that they are so completely in the moment that they can move beyond the source of their tears instantaneously. Unlike us adults, they don’t work so hard to hold grudges. They get it out—honestly and completely—and move on. It is really these transparent kids that are the wise ones in this world. When we become “mature” and “control our emotions”, the unfortunate side effect is often that we hide from our Truth and squash down feelings that must be felt lest they destroy us (through addictions and chronic, mind-numbing activities like television). I have been that old. I want to be young again!
Yes, I have been one of the many bottled-up people in this world. Why do we do it, though? Why do we chicken out? Why do we lack the courage to own our feelings and express them—to tell our Truth—especially to those we love the most? Just this afternoon I was thinking about my great-uncle Lloyd, whom I have always thought of as the most kind-hearted man I have ever known. I was thinking of how grateful I am that he has been in my life and how I hope that I can be that kind of man for the rest of my life (he is about to be 89). It hit me: I have to write him a letter and tell him so! Yeah for me, right? But as I sit here writing to you about this idea of emotional honesty, I can’t help but feel a little cowardly that the only way I dare tell this hero of mine how much he means to me is by writing him a letter. I cannot tell him to his face.
I know how I am (or how I have been?). I would freeze up if I tried to tell him. I would take any sign of awkwardness from him as an excuse to clam up and not finish my thought, not tell my Truth. “I don’t want to make him uncomfortable” or “He doesn’t like to show emotion, so I won’t”. These are just crutches for me, reasons to avoid owning who I really am. The other one—I use this one to avoid honest conversations with my Dad—is “Oh, he knows how I feel.” But that assumes a lot. What if he doesn’t know? What if he thinks my silence means what I used to think his silence meant? What if he goes to the grave thinking that?
I think it is this reason—the brevity of life and the suddenness of its end—that has helped me improve over the years at sharing my emotions honestly. I just don’t want people to leave my life without knowing how much they mean to me. And it isn’t just the shortness of other people’s lives that concern me anymore; it is also my own duration. I am keenly aware that I could go any time, so I am trying to seize every moment, “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” as Thoreau says. That includes building rich, authentic relationships, which requires me to own my feelings. It also includes not denying myself the simple pleasure of telling my Truth.
Telling my Truth, I have found, is wonderfully liberating. I now see those chances to tell it as little “dares”—as in, “I dare you!”—to jump at rather than shy away from, as I always used to. The dare excites me now. Each time I seize it, I become more confident, more comfortable in my own skin, and thus more willing to share my emotions—my Truth—the next time. It is a healthy snow-balling effect.
I also think that it becomes easier to own my feelings and live out loud as I care less and less about what others think of me (see Bob Dylan above; I am becoming younger). The less I look to the outside for validation and instead seek within, the more willing I am to share my emotions and my Truth. Who I am, it turns out, is enough, and I care not for the company of those who think otherwise. So, even as I write this I get more resolved to share my emotions even more freely. It may mean writing it down for awhile—sending that letter to Uncle Lloyd will still feel good—but I will do better with the face-to-face someday, too. Eventually, I will probably become that old guy who—tactfully, I hope–holds nothing back and makes people uncomfortable with his honesty. I admire that guy.
How about you? How bottled-up are you? Open up your journal and start telling your Truth. Tell yourself first. How do you feel about you? Be honest with yourself, and don’t judge your feelings as they come. Just let them flow along with the words, unfiltered. This is when writing is at its best: when you let yourself go. Have you told the people closest to you how much they mean to you? If not, what is stopping you? Try to make the answer something about you, not about them. The part you can control is yours. Pick a person and write out how you feel about them. Do you dare say the words to them face-to-face? If not, how about writing a letter? You already wrote out your feelings; why not just send it? I dare you! Go down the list of your loved ones. Who deserves to know your Truth? Who haven’t you told? The answer to those two questions—and the gap between them—is your challenge laid out before you. Do you accept it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you dare to bare?
You are enough just as you are,