17 June, 2012

Bending over backwards

Off the mat.

I’ve always reacted strongly to the rigidity I perceive in my father. As a teenager, I experienced it as frustration about the limitations it put on me. I wanted to go to an Aerosmith concert, but he didn’t feel like he had enough information about it to feel safe letting me go with my friends. By the time he’d done his assessment of whether or not it was a good idea, my friend had offered the ticket to someone else. He needs time to ponder things: “I need to think about it” was something he would say weekly, if not daily. And I never really knew if that statement actually meant that he was going to think about it, or if he just wanted to buy time to let the idea simmer before making a commitment either way. Similarly, if I wanted them to buy me something when I was a kid, there would be long delays, a justification period, and probably (behind-the-scenes) research on his part to determine how best to go about it. So there was always a lot of waiting, and often disappointment.

As I got older (and, simultaneously, he got older), the rigidity triggered in me a righteous rage about why he needs to do everything in such maddeningly specific ways, e.g. how he cuts an apple using one of those ridiculous unnecessary apple-coring devices. And, of course, if I make the mistake of questioning it, then I get to hear the praises of how wonderful said apple-coring device is, which makes me feel like I just shot myself in my own foot. At the other end of the spectrum, I could not understand how he can be so incredibly meticulous about so many routines, but it is simply impossible to convince him to recycle (his response to that battle was “I did it for years… it’s enough already!).

Bottom line is: there’s a code, and a logic to the way he does things, and don’t even try to question it.

I’ve been trying, over the past few years, to not pick those little battles. To not fight the same fights. To not ask the questions when I already know the answers. I may not like how he does what he does, but that’s “my shit,” not his. For all I know, he doesn’t like the haphazard, random way that I do things. And to be honest, I think I go out of my way to be even more haphazard and random when I am around him, almost as if to highlight the difference. That’s probably where I’m at now. I stopped the full-on instigation of conflict, and have delved into subversive passive aggression.

But I have been trying more and more to let go of that stuff from the past. To breathe. Maybe even to appreciate or find joy in the differences, rather than frustration.

On my visit home this time, I had planned to do some work while I was there. It was only recently that my father finally broke down and bought himself a computer (that decision, he thought about for over ten years; but I take great joy in the fact that, not only did he buy the exact computer I suggested, but he later reflected that it was the best decision, and he didn’t realize how much he’d been missing… tiny happy victories).

As such, he now has internet at home. Since he keeps his computer in one place, he has never bothered to set up wireless in the house, since he just plugs into the cable modem directly. After spending 2 days plugging my laptop in with his cable, I finally commented that I wish we had wireless so that I could sit anywhere in the house and work (though, what I really probably wanted to do was to be able to do facebook or my blog from anywhere in the house). To my surprise, my father says that he actually has a wireless router, but he never has bothered to set it up, because he didn’t need it. So I asked if he minds if I set it up.

Music stops. A hush comes over the room. The audience stares with anticipation.

“I don’t want to get into that right now,” he says.

Cue beginning of suspense music.

I say, reassuringly, “It will only take like 3 minutes to set it up! It would be no big deal, and you don’t even need to use the wireless yourself. You can just plug your computer in the same way you always do.”

“Maybe we can take a look at it next time you’re in town,” he says.

Okay, my button has officially been pushed. Why? Why? Why the decision-making? Why does he need to think about this one?! How is next time I am in town any better than now?!

I try to let it go without further ado, but it’s clear that I’m sulking.

After a brief moment passes, he says, “Would it make you feel better if we go ahead and set up the wireless?”

He has offered me an uncharacteristic olive branch. He is offering to go outside his own comfort zone, to forego the decision, to make me feel better. He’s trying to build a bridge.

I say, “Well, it’s not that it would make me feel better but it would be helpful.

Yes, it’s true. I’m an asshole.

I should have just said it would make me feel better, but I was clinging onto the righteousness. I shouldn’t, in my mind, have ever needed to get permission. We should have never, in my mind, have come to the “not feeling good” part of the conversation. And I didn’t want to let go completely.

So, we go downstairs, we set up the wireless (it takes closer to 10 minutes, because the router had a firmware upgrade) and it works. Everyone’s got wireless! Yay! He then asks if we can make sure that it still works plugged in the other way because, after I leave, he wants to put the wireless router back in the box and go back to plugging it in. Again, why? I know the answer is because a) he doesn’t feel he needs wireless, and b) he has his comfort zone. So we plug the cable back into his computer.

No internet.

We fiddle around with things and, after restarting the computer, he has internet again. But then, I have no wireless! I’m starting to feel a bit embarrassed because I had assured him this would be a three minute endeavor, no sweat, but we’ve run into problems, and now his main concern is that we won’t be able to get things back the way they were.

At this point, I concede that maybe the wireless isn’t really necessary, and we wrap it up and put it back in the box. We spend another 20 minutes getting the internet to work consistently. I eventually learn that he occasionally has problems with the internet, and he just turns everything off and back on again, and then he has internet. In all likelihood, there’s something wrong with his cable modem that has nothing to do with the wireless! It is an intermittent problem that he’s learned how to deal with, so he’s comfortable with it, and doesn’t even think about it.

One has to wonder if the Karmic Gods of the Universe gave me a little smackdown for not graciously accepting his olive branch without an attitude (but I don’t really believe in that… really, I don’t… no, really).

In the end, although there were some potentially tense moments, I feel like this was a huge success. We could have done an “I told you so” or had tensions flare. But we both met in the middle. And we respected each others’ way of doing things. He didn’t really need to say “no,” and he came around. I didn’t really need to have wireless, and I decided to do without.

It makes me think about Bridge Pose because we both “bent over backwards” to try to accommodate each others’ ways.

Building bridges is all about bending over backwards.

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