I just read Anne Frank’s diary again. I could write 20 blog posts on it. I am astounded by the precociousness, honesty, and self-awareness that came from this 14-year-old girl. “The young are not afraid of telling the truth,” Eleanor Roosevelt writes in the introduction. It is sad that we grow into adults where we feel compelled to dishonesty and secrets because of social conventions. That it is rewarded with the prizes of promotions and friends.
It is disheartening the secrets we keep from each other because of what we want people to believe about us. It has always bewildered me the shame of being yourself. The book that I am writing in my head is about that. About how we are two different people – our organic selves and the facades we show to other people. About how always keeping up the facade weakens the real you into a shadow and the facade becomes someone even you begin to believe is you.
I don’t think it is a crime to be your organic self. Of course, it is unpopular. People prefer certain characteristics over others: agreeable over argumentative, pretty over ugly, funny over dull. So we work hard to be more likable. To be someone other than who we are. When I am around people too long, I get emotionally exhausted. Because organically, I am quick to respond and opinionated and hot-tempered. And people don’t want me to be any of those things.
People want to be listened to and agreed with and not reacted upon unfavorably. After spending too much time with people, I just want to go home and take a bath and be alone, where I don’t feel constantly judged and discussed for things I did and said. I don’t want to think about people saying how unsocial and bitchy I am for wanting to be alone. If I could separate myself from my inherent need to be liked, or at least accepted, I could be myself.
Now that I am a parent, I see this from another paradigm. I think about my sons, and how I want them to feel free to be themselves, not stifled. I don’t want them to think that men don’t cry, because if they want to cry, they should be able to sob it out. If one turns out to be serious, I don’t want him to try to be funny to be more popular. If one is a musician, I don’t want to force him instead to be an athlete. If they have unpopular characteristics, I want to celebrate the good in those.
I am opinionated, yes, but I am also decisive. I am stubborn, yes, but I am also determined and motivated. I am bossy, but I am also a born leader. I am hot-tempered, but I am also aware of my emotions and allow them an outlet. We tend to focus on what is negative, rather than what good can come of it. I can already see manifestations of some of my characteristics in Brandon. And I don’t plan to tell him not to be those things. I plan accentuate them by introducing him to positive ways to use them. Who we tell our children they are is who they believe themselves to be, good or bad. And damn it, my kids are the best. They don’t need any fixing.
He defined me first, as parents do. Those early characterizations can become the shimmering self-image we embrace or the limited, stifling perception we rail against for a lifetime. In my case, he sees me as I would like to be seen. In fact, I’m not even sure what’s true about me, since I have always chosen to believe his version.
~ Kelly Corrigan writing about her dad in The Middle Place