Don’t come in for dinner until you can resolve your differences and I trust you will both figure out how best to do that, was a common intervention strategy of my father on more than one occasion, whenever my brother and I were at each other’s throats, and our screaming and threats carried across the back lawn, into the living room, and clinked against the ice cubes in his whiskey. He wanted to believe so deeply that human beings knew intuitively how to be civil and caring, his sons would have to become his great experiment in compassion. God knows his second wife, our mother, wasn’t a model citizen in that department. Even while married to our stepmother he still felt guilty for letting our birth mother physically beat and torture me in similar ways she did to him.
So, when he asked us to generate rational solutions during sometimes physically fighting, what he meant was show me there’s a part of you more powerful than your biology, show me people aren’t evil. Show me you can put the knife down and walk away or put the pitchfork down and take a breath. Show me that when you hold your fist up above the face of your brother and threaten to plow through it with the force of a bulldozer that you can recognize it’s yourself you want to explosively dig through for the sake of some good old-fashioned confession and perhaps some knockout self-acceptance.
What he didn’t know was that often, we’d agree to call a temporary truce and shake hands and say sorry in sight of the window he watched from, for the sake of a warm plate, and whatever anger was still there would stop bubbling over the edges of our broken, self-loathsome hearts and just turn to steam and evaporate as quickly as the food we were eating. I never had a doubt he’d say, when we came back inside and told him we were ready to move on and have dinner. But he would say that given he didn’t think anybody, especially himself was very noble or good, even if they pretended to be. Introspection was his way of solving everything, and to borrow the cliché, this son has not fallen far from that tree.
Got a job you hate? Well, that must be because deep down you feel helpless to the fact that you love it and can’t stop caring about it. Feel like killing yourself? Well, shit, that’s only because you really want to wake up somewhere else and see things have changed. Your world won’t be happy until it destroys you, you waste of money? Well, that’s because you must learn to open yourself wide enough to realize your true value is beyond price and petty definitions of self-worth like this one. Someone could slice you open and leave you to bleed out and you’d be thinking not what do I do to live, apply pressure, and run into public, but perhaps this is what they meant when they said things change, and I’m finally going to get the life and love I’ve always wanted. Whatever they say about the benefits of introspection, it can be emotionally abusive when used in place of emotional validation, believe you me.
It’s easy to see why even doctors had confused introspection for mental illness, as easy as it is to see that many experts believed introversion was a kind of antisocial personality disorder before self-help gained prominence. Introspection is like a mannerism that gets passed down through generations, the way family members cross their legs the same way, fold their hands similarly, cock their head in the same arrogant manner, or give a look that says really, etc. My principal father was always about the rhetoric of self-discovery and the growth mindset we’re starting to hear a lot about now in education circles. Maybe introspection has something to do with that, I don’t know.
His teacher friend Dick, whom he worked with and who lived next door to us I rarely saw, never seemed to be invited over to cookouts or lawn parties with the kids featuring Willy the Water Bug Lawn Sprinkler and Weeble. He was a tall guy and I think the basketball coach at my father’s high school for quite a while. His hair was so wispy I remember, unlike mine which like my mother’s was kinky and curled in on itself like a patch of fiddleheads. I used to investigate his windows to see if I could catch him looking out but I never saw him, unless he came out to get the mail in those same sweatpants every fucking day. In the end, we’re always looking through windows, seeing either what we want to see or what others will let us see, half drunk on our own perceptions and meanings, until one day what’s in us that really matters leaves and we’re left for someone else to find, looking like a life-size version of an elf Christmas ornament the cat knocked out of the tree, our pants half down, our shirt unfinished, partly tucked in.