What I Learned Last Night: Loving the Mess, too


A user manual would be nice when figuring out how to navigate the ever moving, ever changing waves of relationships. Just when you think you’ve figured out how to relate to people or a specific person, something shifts, and you find a new layer.

Not so much a new layer in them – mostly a new layer in you. A strength or a weakness you didn’t know about.

While I know that all of the relationships I have in my life have their ups and downs, I know which relationship causes me the most turmoil.

The one with my dad.

First, you must realize, I love my daddy, even after all the hard stuff that’s happened. I see so much of him in me. For a time, I hated that about myself: I’m messy and I have a hard time staying in one place and I’m nerdy and can have emotional ups and downs and if I’m being true to who I am, I show my emotional cards far too quickly and easily.

That last part of me I’ve worked hard on hiding – wanting to be strong and not allow anyone to see my heart. To keep up the appearance of a calm and cool exterior.

But I digress. I’ve had to find a balance of how to have a relationship with my dad. I tried to not have one with him at all, but try as I did, I couldn’t not have him in my life in some way.

So, I have boundaries and work hard to keep those walls up and put my dad in a nice little box. I only open that box when he’s the dad I want him to be. The one I could talk to forever about cheezy sci-fi movies and books and music. That dad – he’s my real dad.

But when “sad dad” tries to come out, I shut down and force him back in the box. He doesn’t get to do that to me. He doesn’t get to be depressed or emotional or say things I don’t want to hear. Because I have boundaries.

It’s not perfect, but it is what it is.

Last night as I listened to a voicemail from my dad – sad dad – emotions rapidly grew in my chest, and I found it hard to breathe.

Anger. Fear. Sadness. Empathy.

I played the voicemail over and over in my head. And I thought, I’ll call him tomorrow when he is not “sad dad.” That is my boundary.

But I couldn’t shake it. So I did something new – I tried to see things from a new perspective.

Relationships don’t work with boxes. We may think they can, but they don’t. When you have a relationship with someone and you say you love them, you don’t get to just love them when they are shiny.

You love them when they are dark, when they are sad and mad and messy. God, I’m thankful I have people that love me even when I’m in the middle of messy.

So I thought, how can I say that I want a relationship with my dad when I won’t allow him to be him. Is that really a relationship?

Boundaries are important in relationships, but boundaries aren’t meant to squash the other person. They aren’t there to try to force someone into changing to fit who you think they should be.

Boundaries are there so you are able stay who you are, even in the midst of the other person being who they are.

I decided long ago that I would love people – my family especially – where they were. I wouldn’t wait for them to change who they are or how they acted before I spent my emotions on them.

Vulnerability. Ick. Scary word and even scarier feeling. Loving like this puts me in a position of being hurt, repeatedly. I’m not perfect at this kind of love, and suspect I never will be until heaven, but I’m growing.

And last night, I grew a little more in love. In vulnerability. In acceptance.

I called him back. And we talked about work, sadness, car problems, and how he met my mom so long ago. And it was a good talk.

Was I uncomfortable at times? Absolutely. But that’s okay. Because as uncomfortable as I may have been at certain points while talking to “sad dad,” I can’t help but feel that it made a big difference in his night. Maybe after that call, he was a little less sad and felt a little less alone in the world.

I love you, daddy. Thanks for the chat.