Becoming Your Own Person
I had breakfast with my dad and his girlfriend this morning. Here, both “breakfast” and “girlfriend” are used loosely. It is 1 pm and we just got home, and it feels odd to call a fully grown woman with her own career and children “girl.”
Anyways, I sit here now reflecting on how “Jac”, as my dad calls her, perceived me. I wonder if she considers me “Josh Jr.”, as most people who have known my dad before me have done throughout my life. I met Jac a couple years ago, so it’s not as if we are strangers to one another. My dad has told me many stories about her, and possibly vice-versa.
Today was the first time I sat down to a meal with her, though, and eating is such a human, intimate thing to do with someone. You can quickly tell a lot about someone by what they order and how they speak to restaurant staff. I’m definitely not advocating that you use a meal with someone as an opportunity to study them, but if the opportunity presents itself, you really can gain a deeper understanding of them.
So, just as I was studying Jac, I assume she was making her own observations about me. In my reflection of what her conclusions may have been, I was surprised to realize that I don’t think her immediate reaction was to lump me in as a carbon-copy of my dad, as I think people would have done — even as little as a few years ago.
I look like my dad, and I act like my dad, but mostly, I think like my dad. The two of us find solace in one another. We process things similarly, and there is something really special about not having to explain every part of my thought process for him to understand me. I have inherited my ability to look at things for what they truly are — instead of what people usually perceive them as — from him. In other words, the two of us tend to operate on pure logic and intuition. Whether it’s learned behavior, or hereditary, I don’t quite know.
Regardless, I know that I am a lot like my dad. I realized today though, more than that, I am my own person.
This is quite a revelation for me. When you grow up — as many of us do — with people constantly comparing you to your parents (or for those of you who aren’t the oldest, your siblings), it is difficult to tease apart which qualities are actually “you”, and which are habitual from the environment you grew up in.
Maybe today’s reflection is more of an extension on some thoughts that started forming after I spent Monday with my dad. We talked a lot about considering others’ opinions and having the courage to live life as authentically as possible, even when others’ don’t understand what you are doing. I have always had the idea that I should do things as my dad would, or as my dad wants me to. But on Monday, he said, “Of course, I’m always here to be a sounding board for you, but if you just took my advice and did exactly what I said, I would be disappointed.”
I don’t think he quite realizes how important that was to me, but it granted me some internal freedom. The rest of my life should be fully embraced to live for me and me alone. While I want to make my parents proud, the biggest honor I can give them is to create myself into exactly who I want to be.
Family is incredibly important to me. I spend time with my parents, and even more time with their parents. I have five siblings, the younger two of whom had drastically different childhoods than the older four of us. As I watch the two of them grow up, the whole “nature vs. nurture” debate is often on my mind. And, of course, it’s hard to separate yourself from your family completely. They are a part of you, genetically and culturally.
The older I get, though, the more I change and evolve and grow into a more full version of myself. No matter how comforting and simple it can be to box myself in with the people who raised me and I grew up with, that mentality is just a way of cheating myself out of the full life that I have been given.
My family is probably just as much a part me now as they always have been, but at this point, I no longer think of who my parents are as the final image. They are more like the raw materials. I have the ability to shape those into whatever I desire. Of course, there are constraints with any material. The beautiful thing about living is that I can seek out new materials to sculpt from.