November 1 will mark ten years since my dad left my mom. I watched golden leaves smack my windshield tonight, listened to Jason Martin bend the same notes on Starflyer 59’s gold album, wondered if I’ve become a better person than last year, and I realized that I have been repeating this same ritual every autumn since my dad left.
In ten years, I have moved out, gained new friends, watched old friends move, played some concerts, lived in three cities, driven seven cars (I think), attended three churches, lost nearly 40 pounds, taken two road trips, landed a teaching job, completed two college degrees, recorded at least five albums, accepted a heart-felt apology from and reconciled with my father, been rejected by numerous women, helped a friend get elected to the Raytown board of aldermen, married a girl who lived 600 miles from me, seen families collapse, buried my final paternal grandparent, watched families reconcile and experienced unemployment for the first time. Aside from a few, I did not know most of the people whose numbers are programmed in my phone when my dad left in 1999. Remarkably, most of those who have remained are in the first nine slots of my speed dial.
It’s been a difficult week for me. After being out of work for nearly six months, I finally landed a job. I am going to be a paraprofessional at Raytown Middle School, assisting a student in a wheelchair. This is far from what I envisioned for myself. I am about to turn 30, and it feels like I’m starting over. I will be at the bottom of the pay scale, and, after six years of marriage, it would still not be prudent to start a family any time soon.
I’m so tired now, and in more ways than one. I want to see this job opportunity for what it is; I want to be happy that I’ll finally have a foot in the door in a school district I really want to work for. But there are still aspects of the job that make pessimism attractive. I have to cling to my identity as a child of God, not as a teacher, husband or friend. I have no other plea.
I talked to my dad last week between deliveries at Pizza Hut and told him about how I had been chosen to be the worker on the street corner, holding an advertisement for the restaurant. I tried to make the best of it and danced around with the sign, but I told him, “It’s not exactly what I got a master’s degree for.” He then reminded me that I had earned my master’s degree to achieve my goals and that I was working at Pizza Hut right now in between jobs to achieve those same goals: to be a contributing member of my family and community.
I am fortunate to have so many encouraging people in my life. And not the cheesy, chicken-noodle-soup-for-the-soul types, either. What is probably difficult for many of them is that they have to put a lot of work into their encouragement. Spending an entire evening with Katy and me is not an investment of time I take lightly. Calling me in the evening, although they know conversations will be truncated because I’m making deliveries, requires much patience. Meeting with me for lunch requires a strong back because I will invariably dump problems on them. Suggesting I read a particular book or listen to a certain record indicates that person has really spent time in trying to get in my head and see what I need right now. Watching me cry in bed and knowing you can’t do anything to improve the situation is taxing.
I’ve learned a lot in ten years. I’ve learned that looking out for another’s best interest can take you to some very dark places and sometimes sever the relationship. I’ve learned that an essential building block of trust is being gracious enough to recieve. I’ve learned that very little goes according to plans, but you still need to plan. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to forgive far more than seventy times seven I’ve learned that the work you have to do in a relationship is mostly with yourself. I’ve learned that the only thing you can control is your own response.