There’s an insurance advert which features two elderly ladies in a car driving through red lights, across roundabouts and sending people scattering as their vehicle careers through a busy street side cafe. The passenger asks her friend if she realises how out of control they are, to which she responds, “Am I driving?”
Yesterday my son turned nineteen. On his birthday I always think about the windy Tuesday morning he came into the world. I remember my feelings of total inadequacy throughout the labour, the frantic activity of the medical staff when it initially appeared as if something was wrong, the calm which followed and the lukewarm cup of tea without toast. (My wife got toast. Fair enough really).
The day we took him home I was overcome with a sense of responsibility the like of which I had never experienced before or since. I knew I was in control, but I was totally out of control.
The transition from child to adult is fraught with difficulty and blurred by so much we might want to take control of contrasting with that which we don’t feel ready to.
What makes matters worse is our insistence on trying to take control of things which are not ours.
As a child, Tom would tell me what he felt. Looking inward, narcissistic in the best and most innocent way. But as he grew up and began to learn what disappointed me or made me happy, he would more often delve into himself to find it. I didn’t want this unless it chimed in tune with his own wishes or unless it was genuinely for his good. I lived my childhood dancing to the tune of others expectations (or rather, my warped perception of them) so religiously that it nearly broke me.
There is an awful pain in contorting ourselves into uncomfortable positions just because we believe it might endear us to others. It’s a dysfunctional view of control which is rife but hopeless. Once begun it is incredibly difficult to stop.
When we are hurting we often try and change other people rather than our own response. Rejected, disrespected, overlooked, disregarded we will jump through hoops to try and have an impact on the way someone else thinks, feels or behaves only to have it ultimately make no difference. We end up feeling even less valuable than we did before.
If I have learned anything as a father it is that my children are on loan to me. I am responsible but I am not in control, and understanding the difference between the two is of profound importance.
So, released from the burden of having to control everyone else, what is it which stops us from taking more positive and constructive control of ourselves? Perhaps it is the discomfort we experience when we really look with honesty at the impact we are having on our own lives. Maybe, with scrutiny, some of our decisions and our tolerances, would feel as uncomfortable as the treatment we seem to accept from other people.
My son has grown into a wonderful, funny, kind and sensitive young man. He knows his own mind but I still find myself following an invitation or outlining a range of options with “I really don’t mind. I want you to do what’s best for you”. In my heart, I know its more for my benefit than it is for his.
I’m proud of him for so many reasons, but one of them, which resonates with me every day, is that he clearly feels able to say what he thinks or feels. He is driving and he knows that he is. That’s the best any of us can ever do.