Jim Ellis Editor
There was a time, not too long ago, when I would be in the company of my father, and I would feel such constriction, resentment and upset.
Flash ahead to a time period – now – where I look forward to going through the door of my old home in Huntington Beach, to hang out, in joy, with my dad.
It actually took one of the simplest tasks in order to make the shift. It may sound too simple, but there was just this one action I had to take. Of course, getting there took years of work on myself, and years of personal growth.
Growing up I constantly felt invisible. A father busy with work, gone most of the day, would return home with a load of boxes. He would spend much time with these boxes, growling over them, shuffling through paperwork and folders and files.
I grew up feeling pretty overlooked, rejected, neglected.
For all my creative endeavors – poetry, creative writing, theater work – I never received a positive comment.
Now when I say “never,” your mind may push that term away as if I speak in hyperbole. But I kid you not. The first time my father commented favorably about one of my creative creations came in 2014 when he called me after reading some of my “Breadcrumbs” prose book with a “Hey, that was a good poem.”
The entire time before this was like a vast wasteland of me writing articles and books, and producing plays and film – basically overlooked by my dad. And this included a 45-minute 50th wedding year anniversary documentary that included footage I researched from as far back as 1930.
It was a deadly response for a creative being who just wanted a boost of positive feedback … especially from the audience member who, somehow, mattered the most.
It’s because of this sense of invisibility, meaninglessness and learned hopelessness that I dreaded visiting my dad. I recall showing up on visits, and the TV would be on. That TV would remain on, volume raised where you could not really hear each other clearly. If ever my dad smacked his food when I was present, I would go into a silent rage. I believe this came from the thought in my head: “He isn’t aware he’s doing it; he isn’t aware of me; he’s never been aware of me!” The stories he would tell me would focus on his past, and not really reach over into my world. I would not receive a question about my life. I would hear stories of his past a dozen or more times. And the times I would speak, he would redirect the topic so fast that it would spin my head. And on some level, break my heart.
Why would I subject myself to this?
Something had to change.
And so it did.
It changed gradually, but it did change.
Now, I walk into my dad’s home, give him a big hug, and watch as he turns down, if not off, the TV set. We sit and chat away. And it’s fun. We can talk about sports, and it doesn’t feel like a distraction but more of pleasant pastime. We can talk about metaphysics and other sublime topics, and it isn’t an escape but rather an adventure we share together. We can even talk about some tougher, more raw, subjects. And he sticks with it. He sticks with me.
As I look back, the shift came for a few key reasons.
And all of them with a common denominator: me.
- Years of emotional healing work, using breathwork and the like, to travel deeply within unresolved emotions and life experiences in order to face, address and transmute the emotions: from rage … to fear … to pain … to tears … to compassion … to awareness … to true perception … to forgiveness.
- A Sterling Men’s Weekend where I learned that the challenges put before me with my pop were all part of my growth curve – to grow into the man I needed to be, no matter the obstacles placed upon my path.
- “Compassionate Communication” work wherein I learned to listen to my own needs and feelings in relation to another and not blame others for what I was experiencing, but learn to speak up about what I was wanting.
- Years of MDI men’s work, learning leadership skills, connecting with other men at levels I could not previously, getting my needs met where they could be met, and halting the insane desire to try and force one other human being to meet me where he could not.
- The time it takes to grow up into mature adulthood.
With all this as a background, it really only took one simple task on my part to make the shift with my dad.
It may sound silly and overly simplistic.
But if you knew how much work I had to do to get the courage and energy to do this, you would see this as a heroic act.
And what was that act, that task?
Simply – speaking up, and on occasion interrupting.
- In the very moment a story was going on and I was losing him – I could interrupt.
- If I had just spoken and he changed the subject and I still had a point to make – I could interrupt.
- If he was smacking loudly and it was breaking the peace for myself – I could interrupt.
I mattered enough to speak up. I was not invisible.
I was in the room and I had a place here. I was present and could represent myself.
- No longer was I going to be part of the conspiracy of silence.
- No longer would I stay quiet, embracing an identity of a ghost who had no voice and no value.
- No longer would I just be vacant, passive, victimized.
Only someone invisible and meaningless would remain that way.
I made that shift, among other shifts, and we both shifted together. He didn’t mind when I spoke up, or even interrupted, like I feared he would. No … over time, it became obvious. I just had to stand up for myself, not harsh or forceful, just clear, and he would simply shift his energy and take me in.
Thank you dad for forcing me to stand up for myself and proclaim that I matter, that my expression matters and my creativity matters.
It’s something that a writer and poet would definitely need to learn in a lifetime.
I’ll take the lesson with me and do you proud.
Yes, there was a time, not too long ago, when I would be resentful and upset in the company of my father, but now he is my dad.
He asks questions.
He turns the TV off.
I interrupt if I must.
He smacks, and who cares.
Now I enjoy a trip to Huntington Beach where I look forward to going through the door, to hang out, in joy, with a man who no longer has to be something for me, but someone I can simply enjoy, appreciate, love.
James Anthony Ellis is an award-winning playwright, journalist and filmmaker, who is the author of eight books, including the men-focused “The Honor Book” available HERE.