Apparently I’m for real. Or so says my dad. Correction, said my dad who died over 25 years ago. (Yes, I’m counting.) We’d have conversations about everything — from his childhood, my grades, our shared insomnia or his crazy tennis serve — pretty much any topic we felt like covering we would. And there were so many. At the end of our conversation, he’d pause a minute, then look up, grinning ear to ear, almost unable to contain himself, and remark proudly, “Susie… you’re for real!”
He said it so often I could fill in the blank each time after I heard my name, and would offer up an “I know, I know, I’m for real.” I hated to disappoint him, but I never had a good response to his revelation, and honestly never knew what he meant. It was so predictable and the attention was embarrassing that I’d send him a teenage eye roll each time to round out our shtick. He didn’t care that I brushed him off. For him, what he said was a high compliment and he wanted me to know.
I understand those words now that I’ve had loads of conversations with others since, some unsatisfying and many good, like we had. This honesty and sharing and communicating completely, coupled with details on all the minutiae, is what fascinates me and fires me up. I think it makes me real.
He died before all this could simmer long enough to make sense, but I’ve thought a lot about who he was and who I am. Doesn’t everything pretty much trace back to our parents? Do they fuck us up or fill us up? The jury is still out, but I think it’s a combination. I suppose our perspectives’ origins come down to a simple multiple choice of a) mom or b) dad, with an evolving blend of nature and nurture folded in.
What is “for real” anyway? I know what it’s not. It’s not disingenuous, fake, closed or self-absorbed. These qualities are exhausting and discouraging to see in people, and I’ve gotten better at spotting and dodging them. Understanding who is for real involves an excavation, a peeling away of layers to get to what is underneath. Think of an artichoke and the heart inside you’re working to get.
In this vein of understanding myself better, I’m reminded of what my 8th grade Bible teacher wrote in my yearbook. My friends couldn’t do it, as he was way too handsome for us to focus in class, much less ask for a yearbook signature after, but I worked up the nerve. As I stood there, yearbook and pen in hand, excited yet nervous about what he was going to say, I had no idea he’d scrawl a message so succinct yet so wise. When I left his class, I opened my yearbook scanning for his remarks only to find scribbled quickly inside, “Settle down, Susan!” I was expecting to read something interesting about me, something good, something special. But this?
As I’ve gotten older I see that my friends share similar qualities. If like begets like, the people and experiences we attract mirror our own. Taking notice of who we choose to spend time with helps us better understand our own preferences, inclinations, outlook and style. I tend to ruminate, hesitate or just not decide about loads of things because I think I still don’t know myself well enough to choose or trust I’ll arrive at the right answer. Slowing down and looking around takes patience and practice, yet I’ve always been eager in the “Are with there yet?” or “How much longer?” thinking of a child. I’ve come to learn I have a ways to go still.
So as I’m trying to settle down and all the while stay for real, I understand that these insightful lessons I’m searching for aren’t going to unfold all at once, but arrive on their own schedule, when it’s time. They might just appear in the form of a compliment like my dad’s did, so I suppose I’ll keep turning the pages every day hoping to learn a thing or two. I’ll admit it is starting to get interesting.
My dad, Edgar Woody was his name, is now gone from my life, but I’m still here, remembering and understanding, learning and looking. I’d like to think he’d want to pull up a chair today so we could continue the discussions. I know I sure do, especially today, August 3rd, as I remember his birthday.