Tuesday, April 19, 2016

     It has been seven years today since I lost my father. Death is still surreal to me. I find it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that my father who was such a huge figure in my life, even well into adulthood, is no longer on this earth. When we lose people, we get lost in the grief of the moment, and for many, it takes years to fully recover. When I lost my father, I didn’t know if I could go on. It was devastating. Now years later, my perspective has changed, and I can look at his influence more objectively.

     My father was my greatest cheerleader and my most devastating critic. He set goals for me that I could never reach. I know that he didn’t do that to drive me or to punish me, but to motivate me. For every goal I achieved, he would raise the bar higher. What happens to children when they are raised this way: many of us internalize those standards, and we use them to guide us in our adult lives. Sometimes this can be inspiring and rewarding; other
times, those standards can feel like a burden way too heavy to bear. For me, his parenting resulted in a driven, highly-motivated daughter whose sense of self was based on meeting those standards and surpassing them.

    When I sit down at the piano to perform my one-woman show, I follow the advice of my close friend, Pattie, who told me a year ago, “Brush your Dad and your tyrannical piano teacher off each shoulder, and just lose yourself in the music.” I literally brush off my shoulders before every performance, sometimes I even do it when I practice. You see, even into my seventh decade, I feel the pressure of the perfect performance. I have learned there is no such thing as perfection, and certainly no such thing as a perfect musical performance. I have accepted my human-ness, and I try to judge myself unconditionally.

     What’s the point? The point is this:  My father was a wonderful man who blessed me with many talents, with the gift of curiosity for learning, the courage to risk to get what I wanted, the strength to find my own resilience tools and the ability to persevere no matter what. His only mistake, and it was out of love, was that my sense of self was built on what I accomplished, not who I am. This was not his fault, and maybe it was my filter that made me think so. Bottom line, however, is that parents need to inspire, motivate, challenge, but always instill in their children that who they are is not based on what they accomplish. You can fail at many things and still be a beautiful person.

     I love you, Dad. I miss you. I know you meant well, and I am grateful for the blessings, but I have learned that your judgment was less important than my own.