A few days ago, I came in and my seven-year-old daughter had a present for me. She asked me to sit at the table while she ran to her room and got it. I was in a hurry but I sat, she seemed pretty excited.
She returned with a small glossy black cardboard box. She had cut small strips of white paper, decorated them with crayons and attached them to the box like ribbons.
“Open it,” she said and she squeezed onto my lap.
I started peeling it apart. She giggled as I fought with all the tape she used -- she knows that drives me nuts. I finally got it open.
Inside was a cork, a hair barrette, a penny, five washers, a bolt, a Q-Tip, a Lincoln Log, a red cloth bag and several bottle caps. I looked at her to see if she was laughing, as though it was a joke. Instead she smiled earnestly.
“I just thought you might need these things,” she explained, “you know, when you have ‘stuff’ to do.”
She pulled out the plastic hair barrette. “Like this, you could make a ring for mom.” She put it on her finger. “She might like that.”
The way she said need stuck out to me.
See, I spend a lot of time justifying why I do all the things I do. I need to keep myself in top shape; my job and my safety may depend on it. And I like to coach CrossFit, I need the fulfillment in watching others do things they thought they couldn’t. I need to teach self-defense and combatives for the same reason. There is a purpose in making others safer. A few weeks ago during a busy time, my wife even posted on Facebook, that while she didn’t like me being gone all the time, she understood. She was proud of the fact that others needed my help and training.
In the past, she understood my need to fight. It was something that brought me peace. We joke about the fact that I am on my fourth career since college; they live with my need to change, to re-invent myself. I am, I guess, needy.
Admittedly, I am also selfish. I am afraid I am somehow going to miss out on something I need to make my life complete. My logical brain recognizes that my family makes a ton of sacrifices for all the things I “need.” My ego, however, gives in to my needs.
A friend wrote a blog about our fears. In it, he asked us to ask ourselves what scared us. I sat down and tried to make a list. What I found was that I was actually mostly afraid of two things (three if we count snakes):
1) I don’t want to miss out on anything. I am afraid of the regret of not doing something or missing an opportunity. I don’t want to look back on my life at the end and think I missed out.
2) I don’t want to look back and think I was a shitty dad or husband. I want my kids and wife to always know that they are the most important thing to me. I can think of no greater failure than failing here.
I am also afraid that the first fear creates and feeds the second.
I like to think of myself as a writer and someone who likes words. Interesting, though, how I sometimes create convenient definitions for them. Officially, a need is a requirement, a necessary duty or obligation. I recognize I have converted the definition some to fit my wants.
I explain that it is a very noisy place inside my head. The dreams and the plans, the schedules, the appointments, the ideas … The new things I learn and want teach others, the thoughts I want to expand on. Sometimes the racket is unbearable. And I used to believe one day I could make it quiet.
A few months ago I had been working on a project and was about to present it and try to implement it. A friend asked me, “If you get what you want here, will you be happy?”
“I’ll be happy either way,” I realized. “But I don’t know that I’ll be content either way.” That discontent is just the noise and at this point, I understand how it works.
But that noise stopped for a few minutes when my daughter crawled into my lap and giggled with that little box of things that she had collected that I might need. All of the sudden the noise and the needs were irrelevant.
That box and its contents are on my nightstand. It is there to remind me of the things I “need” in my life.
I need that box and I need more moments like that with my daughter. It is amazing the uses a seven-year-old can find for an old cork and some washers.
And this doesn’t mean I am giving it all up either. I still don’t want to miss a thing. I am still going to live in the middle ring of this circus of my life. I find happiness there too. While the craziness doesn’t silence the noise it does feed the noisemakers, and really, I like them too.
But it is in the moments that my children are sitting on my lap with gifts for me that the noise stops and I find contentment. And if there is anything I need, it is more of that.
And it’s like she reads my mind. A few days later, we were riding our bikes on the bike trail with her brother. She was ahead of me pedaling away. I was watching and smiling as she navigated the trail. We got to the park and practiced bumping and setting and spiking a volleyball. I noticed the silence as we played. We sat down on the bench and chatted. In the middle of it all, she stopped and asked if I had found a use for any of the things she gave me yet.
“I’ve used them all,” I said.