Dear Ivy: Feel

My Dear Ivy,

I realized as I was writing my last letter about “enjoyment” and finding joy in what you do, that there was an underlying assumption buried in that advice, which I haven’t written about yet. I want to do that now.

This is another big one, and it’s another one that our culture is built around fighting against. It is this: I want you to feel.

For me, as a man, there are a lot of pressures around suppressing feelings and pretending everything is ok when it very much is not. For you, as a woman, there will be the opposite pressure – there will be many who attempt to define you by your feelings, as if your feelings are the sum total of all that you are.

They’re not. You have an incredible mind, and even at a year and a half old, I’ve already had multiple occasions to marvel at how that mind works. You are also growing up in a culture that is built around reason and logic and determining the best course of action because it’s the “smart thing to do.”

But there are times when doing what convention says is the “smart thing,” is overrated. There are a lot of people these days who think they know more than they do about a lot of things – and who will try to drive you toward the “smart” decision based on what they think they know.

And there is a time to sit down and cautiously think through the information you have and make the wisest choice available.

But remember when I talked earlier about being paralyzed by the fear of making the “wrong” decision? There are times when you just have to let yourself go with what you feel is the best choice for you. Often the very wisest choices are the ones that *don’t* rely strictly on regimented logic alone, but on a mix of reasoned consideration and well-considered emotion. Don’t rely just on your feelings and emotions, as that can be deceptive as well. But do take them into account – both yours and others – as you make your decisions.

Not every decision can be completely based on a logical syllogism backed by a complete and thorough examination of evidence. Sometimes you have to just “go with your gut.” And if you’ve cultivated the wise, empathetic, people-oriented decision-making processes I’ve written about in previous letters, your gut will probably be in a position to do pretty well for you.

And please know this: I always want to know what you’re feeling. There are times when I don’t do the best job of caring for your feelings, or those of your brother and sister. There are times when I am too dismissive, or distracted, or tired, to do as much as I should in showing you how much I care. But I always care. There are times when the sheer loudness of how feelings are expressed, or the multitude of different feelings expressed at the same time, might overwhelm me to the point where I don’t react as I should.

That’s not your fault. It’s mine. I’m sorry for the times I fail, and I hope you will always find me a safe place to discuss what you’re feeling.

Learning how to manage our feelings is part of that thing I talked about in my last letter, “don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” There will be times when I place the responsibility of my own feelings on you. That’s wrong, too. I am responsible for my own feelings, as you will learn to be responsible for yours. There is a world of difference between “You’re making me mad” and “I feel mad because. . . .”  They may sound the same, but the first one puts the responsibility for my feelings on you, while the second one takes responsibility for my own feelings. As you grow, I will do my best to help you learn to manage your feelings, but I hope you can understand as that process takes place, that I’m still engaged in a lifetime of learning how to manage my own.

This stuff is really, really hard, and there are times when I’m not very good at it. For much of my life, growing up, I didn’t have any practice, because I lived in that mindset where I thought I wasn’t supposed to have feelings at all – or that, at the very least, I was supposed to view them with a great deal of suspicion. I’m sorry for the fact that this will sometimes mean I don’t care for your feelings as much as I should, and I hope you and I – and the rest of our family – can work through the lifelong process of learning how to care for each other better, together.

I love you.

Love,
~Dad

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