Today is my Dad’s birthday. He is 79.
When I was about three we had this conversation while eating breakfast at a large wooden outdoor table outside our holiday home in the Pyrenees.
‘Oh look Dad a bee.’
‘No Jen, that’s a fly.’
‘Flies make honey don’t they?’
‘No, bees make honey, not flies.’
‘What do flies make then? Peanut butter?’
Funny stuff kids say is a well-worn trope, and this easily could have fitted in with that fine tradition except for how my Dad reacted to it.
Now, I was a pretty child with golden blonde hair and big blue eyes. One way many Dads would have reacted to a cute little blonde three year old is:
‘Ah how funny, how sweet, that isn’t right honey. You are so silly and adorable.’
That’s not how my Dad reacted.
Another much sadder reaction could have been:
‘Ugh, how disgusting, how could you think something so stupid?’
But again that’s not how my Dad reacted.
He said, ‘Ah Jen, what a good guess. It isn’t right but such a good use of logic. I can see how you worked that out. Smart girl.’
This then became one of the stories they told about me, throughout my childhood.
Always followed by my Dad (or my Mum who is also pretty awesome in the parenting stakes) saying how logical and smart I am. One of the reasons it was told so often was that I requested it over and over, ‘Tell the story about the fly,’ I would say and the whole family knew what I meant.
The stories we repeated tell about others stick. Each story layering a belief, each telling adding another layer.
Now I’m a parent, I’m conscious of the stories I tell and tell about my son. Some of the funny ones don’t paint him in a particularly glowing light, so I’ve stopped telling them.
Because of this story, I have an unshakeable believe that I am logical and smart. (I also fundamentally believe I am good and kind, but that’s another story, perhaps for my mum’s birthday.) When I have bad times, this belief is always with me. It helped save my sanity when I got very ill after my son was born, and I developed postpartum psychosis. When the delusions took over my mind, it helped me hold onto reality by my whitened fingertips. I just felt I could work out what was happening to me, given enough time. Scribbling equations and notes in my notebook, urgently seeking the answers gave me a millimetre of distance between the me underneath and the mad me.
I really do believe I can work out most things given enough time. I can find out more by reading good books. And if I’m still stuck I can always ask my Dad for help.
Thanks Dad – you’re the best.