Happily Even After
Rusty Statuary and Living Images
by Josh Noem
I lost a piece of myself last week.
I had always clung to a certain image of myself as I carried out my role as father and husband. I am a South Dakota native, which allows me to superimpose upon myself a number of images and personality traits that I see in the people and culture of my great state.
I like to think of myself – and other South Dakotans – as a hardy people, not easily disturbed, patient, persistent (even to the point of stubbornness, admittedly, but always for a good reason). We listen before we speak, we see our obligations through, and make sure we stand on our own two feet so that we’re not an undue burden on anyone else. These are the kinds of qualities that stood behind my image of myself as a strong and silent type of guy.
I sometimes say that Stacey’s family is Polish, but they might as well be Italian because they talk everything out. She brings to our family life a readiness to engage in dialogue about everything, and she does not shy away from conflict. She feels strongly and communicates strongly, then forgives and forgets with just as much intensity.
For years, I thought that what I bring to the family is a deep, calming presence that counterbalances Stacey’s intensity. Last week, Stacey and I had one of those “come to Jesus” conversations – you know, the ones where you realize that you have to cut to the core of the issue at hand. In the course of that conversation, it became clear that Stacey needs—not wants, needs—more communication from me than my South Dakotan, strong and silent personality would like to freely give.
I explained that I liked to think of myself as filling a certain role in family life, but even in the course of describing that role, I could see that it was a façade. I think I am a steady and dependable person in general, but in family life, I am that and much more. I’m probably more of a clown than my Midwestern roots can comfortably claim, for example, and I can be impulsive when it comes to fun or major projects. The strong and silent role at times left me aloof and detached.
The image that I had forged for myself was falling short and failing to give me the flexibility that I needed to respond to the needs of those I love. I had to let it go, which was a great sadness. I think I was grieving for a few moments there.
I could immediately sense, however, something new and authentic about my role. It was an encounter with naked truth and it freed me. I’m not sure what kind of qualities I will draw upon in this new version of myself, but perhaps that is just the point.
I still proudly think of myself as a South Dakotan, and I cherish the ways that growing up in that state shaped me. It is part of who I am, but I will try to avoid the temptation of casting that identity in bronze just so I can hold it up and admire it.
The truth is that I am a child of God, created uniquely, and that my state in life as a husband and father ask me to be more dynamic and responsive, and I have it within me to become what my family needs me to be.
I lost a piece of myself last week, but it turns out I didn’t need it.
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