It was my last temper tantrum. I don’t know how old I was – maybe 7 or 8. And I don’t remember the issue that brought on my tantrum. Mom couldn’t get me to stop, so she sent me down into the basement, where I continued screaming from the bottom of the stairs. Suddenly I saw the door open at the top of the stairs. “Yes,” I thought, “at last!” Moments later Mom tossed a bucket of cold water down on me, and my tantrum abruptly stopped. I’ve not had one since (not counting a few technology-challenged moments).
As a possible side-effect from the experience, I have become somewhat guarded in my emotional life. Kim estimates that I usually operate at about 70%, with the other 30% only available through my writing, if at all. I remember at a poetry reading one of my students asked if my wife appreciated my being so emotionally open. I replied that what usually happens is that she asks me how I feel about something, I tell her that I will get back to her in a few days after I write about it. And typically, if she doesn’t ask, she’ll never know. This is not one of my more endearing qualities. Instead, as has been pointed out to me, I spend time living in my head – thinking about the book I’m reading or the blog post I’m working on, or worrying about Kim’s health and the problems of various family members. This does not qualify as “being present.” Guilty, as charged.
Sometimes I feel I am living in the land of Nearly, or Not Quite – that there’s a lot that’s unaccomplished in that missing 30%. I nearly spent my senior year in college touring the East as a drummer with a rock band, but I said no. I not-very-nearly made the Olympic Ice Hockey team, though I did try out. I almost bungee-jumped from a tall building in New Zealand, but I did do some paddle-boarding on Torch Lake. I nearly published a few best-selling books, but I never quite pulled them together or put in the time to market them. On a smaller scale, I’d usually prefer to withdraw into reading and writing rather than going out and seeking adventures. Even small ones. I’m guarded. I don’t easily reach out as a father or grandfather or husband or friend. My sons, and Kim, are learning to take the initiative, which does not raise my score. Pandemic isolation has not caused me to make many uncomfortable changes. Like a lot of guys my age, I’m reluctant to try new things. I often require nudging.
Kim thinks this might be a Guy Thing, though she has plenty of examples of guys she dated pre-me who did not suffer from this kind of guardedness. The Guy Thing defense is not really a good defense. But I do recall seeing a greeting card featuring a smiling couple strolling down the sidewalk, the woman asking, “Do you think I look fat?” and the man answering, “Do you think I look stupid?” Guarded. Or maybe it’s a Canadian Thing, for memory tells me that my dad’s Canadian reserve did not please my mom. That’s no excuse, but still, it’s the best one I have.
One example: We were experiencing what’s known as “a rough stretch” in being confined together, and despite this, or maybe to help end it, Kim fixed me an elaborate and creative meal, featuring orange slices arranged into an interlocking flower-like design. I took a bite and grunted, “Good.” My response did not propel us out of the rough stretch. Perhaps I was worried about that cold bucket of water if I said the wrong thing. Similarly, when Kim dressed up in a non-pajama outfit and a bit of make-up, I acknowledged how nice she looked with a wordless pat on the shoulder. No, I’m not saying I should have rubbed my groin against her, but the wordless pat was not enough. I don’t mean not enough for Kim. It was not enough for me. I did not push through my 70% wall to explore new emotional and experiential territory – for me and for us.
Is living at 70% a good score? 70 is a pretty high number if you ignore the fact that throughout my life, 70% meant a grade of C-. The question, then, is how to find or create that other 30%.
Years ago, Kim dared me to run around the outside of our house naked. I’m not sure why she did this, but because it was a dare, I had to do it, and I did. Fortunately, this was before ubiquitous cell-phone cameras. I was thrilled, partly because I knew I would never do that again. I was living, briefly, in my missing 30%.
It’s probably obvious to most readers that I have not yet come up with the missing 30%. I’m trying. Once in a very-rare while I will phone somebody without Kim suggesting that I make the call. And when we do dishes together, I put on “Proud Mary” and show a few of my dance-like-a-white-guy moves. I wander into Kim’s art studio – a full twenty feet from my desk – to see how she is doing what she is doing rather than just seeing the final product. I sent off for a morel mushroom growing kit – a venture into gardening (though it was Kim who suggested it) that seems like a very small thing because it is. And today we pulled off the road back home from Traverse City to do some “exploring,” which feels a little like being lost, but with a different attitude toward it. I make an effort to notice what Kim notices, which requires a bit of rewiring of my brain. I tell Kim, and myself, about what I appreciate, inching above 70%.
Maybe if Kim tossed a bucket of cold water on me, or if I tossed one onto myself, I could move into more adventures.
Note from Kate:
Dave, you are expecting too much of yourself. You have the Y chromosome, so you are automatically at 70%. In your next life you can come back as a woman and be able to bounce a kid on your hip while cooking a delicious dinner that you dreamed up in your head, and at the same time plan an adventure for the next day, and even slip in some lascivious thoughts about the sexy mailman that just dropped off a package, all at the same time! You were created to be the caveman who goes and hunts down the food and laughs when your caveman friends fart or burp really loud, then come home with the food and watch your cavewoman cook while you think about bangin' that ass later on. God, I'm so glad I'm a woman! LOL!
And from Steve:
Fascinating blog today, creating many thoughts. We are in a bit of a different marriage, Deede and me. She is task oriented; I am people oriented. I am open; she is private. She needs to get our chores done before we play; I believe chores will alway be there so no rush. I reach out to friends and acquaintances daily, and communicate with kids and grandkids frequently. She does not reach out to her friends and classmates, which makes me the family social chairman...but she is thrilled when kids and grandkids contact us. I say and do things to see how people will react. Like when people get on an elevator most normally get on, turn around, and face the door. Sometimes, just to see reactions I will get on and face the people. Awkwardness and discomfort normally ensue, especially if I try to converse. My daughters have told me that at times past they had wished I had a better governor's belt. I embarrass my wife by daily complimenting her about something...things that she believes are routine and not worthy of mention. The good news is that I, like you, have had temper tantrums...two that I remember: when I was about 4 I had a tantrum in a grocery store, probably about something my Mom was not going to buy for me. While I was rolling around on the floor screaming, she just left me there and continued shopping . I found her a few aisles away after I got scared. The other one, embarrassingly, was as an adult on a golf course when I threw my golf club at one of my law partners. Shameful, but I never did like him, and still don't. Thanks for your always thought provoking words. Steve