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Archive for March 2011

When being right is all wrong


With Joyce.

A week ago, I was on the road for a speech and met a woman who broke down crying because she and her sister hadn’t talked for months. She didn’t know how to make the first move.

“Call her!” I said.

As if it were that easy.

“Call her!” I said again.

Over time, I’ve experienced a handful of conflicts that have blown apart some of the best friendships I have ever had. The last month taught me a lesson that I want to share. It’s this: Stubbornness is a very expensive commodity.

People are imperfect and relationships are fragile. Someone once explained to me that, just because a friendship makes it 20 years, it doesn’t mean it’ll make it 21.

That’s a hard lesson. So is the lesson that you don’t win much when you know you are right.

The blow-up I had with my best friend Joyce came during a kayaking vacation with the girls down in the Florida Keys in 2002. In two decades of friendship, we’d never voiced a single cross word with one another. On that trip, outside stresses had us on edge. When we left the Keys, we ended our friendship.

I was devastated. After a couple of weeks, I sent a letter asking Joyce if we could talk. All I got back was a short e-mail that said she wasn’t ready. She lives four hours north of me, but we were a million miles apart.

Three years later, I wrote again and said I missed her. She wrote back and told me she missed me. But, things were still not right. During the next six years, I saw her twice: Once, for lunch. The other time, for her father’s funeral. We occasionally called and had long talks, but there were no visits. Just talk.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in North Florida to start work on a novel. Joyce’s husband was gone for the weekend and she urged me to stay. In two minutes, it was clear how much we had missed. There was love and laughter and understanding and promise. Joyce cuts through the b.s. of life and cracks me up with her insights. I’d missed that so much. I’d missed how comfortable I feel hanging out with her. She gets me more than anybody does.

We’d wasted so much time. I am sure neither of us can even remember exactly what it was that caused the blow-up, just that that she was sure she was right, I was sure I was right, and in the end, we both were a couple of dorks. We have vowed to never go to that dark space again.

The fact that I have to share another story like that could make it seem like I get into things like this a lot. I don’t. I have been blessed with an army of friends, but there are a few stubborn soldiers in that army, including me.

Three weeks ago, my friend Teresa and I got into it because, just like the Joyce situation, we both had outside stresses that made us emotionally vulnerable. In our case, we both were on edge because we were going through bad break-ups. There were some snippy e-mails, and then silence – the kind of silence that wraps itself in anger and hurt. Thank God Teresa it ended quickly.

“Fawn, can we talk yet?”  said the one-line e-mail from her yesterday.

“Why yes we can,” I wrote back.

I’d missed her so much. Last night, we shared a bottle of wine at dinner, toasting our friendship and vowing that we should never fight again. But, just in case we do, the fight can’t last any longer than this one: three weeks.

Believe me, three weeks of being hurt is one hell of a lot better than three years. If you’re missing someone who matters, go fix the problem.

World’s Most Inspiring Senior Citizen is Making Me Crazy

163060_482212606271_621326271_6042778_4362212_nMy father is the world’s worst patient. In the hours after I brought him home from the hospital after his pacemaker surgery, he wouldn’t sit still. It was like I was chasing a toddler around the house.

“Where are you?” I called out as I searched for him. One minute, he was in the living room. The next minute, his office.

“Daddy, sit down! Take a nap!”

“I’m resting!” he hollered out to me.

“Where are you?”

“The laundry room. I need to get these towels out of the dryer…”

“Good grief! Come here!” I scolded, but by then, he was off organizing something in the kitchen.

Everybody roots for the incorrigible Fred Germer to just keep on keeping on, especially if his kids are trying to slow him down. He is the most inspiring character I have ever seen – an 83-year-old licensed pharmacist who works at Vanguard Advanced Pharmacy Systems in Bradenton, Fl. I spoke at Dad’s company Christmas party two years ago and watched as every single employee hugged “Mr. Fred,” who is their company mascot.

Dad has to be the only person on earth who has never bitched about his job, his paycheck, his boss, his customers, his schedule or his aching feet. Never.

He didn’t want the pacemaker because he didn’t want to miss work.

“Are you kidding me?” I calmly asked him the first time we discussed his decision to ignore  the cardiologist’s recommendation.

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I yelled the 20th time I brought it up.

He finally relented and got his pacemaker a week ago. His recovery has been unexpectedly difficult because the doctor cleared him for all activity – including driving – which in his mind meant he was 100 percent good to go. Forget prudence. Dad was driving the day after he got out of the hospital – visiting my mom in the nursing home – and driving to the park for a 30-minute walk. I’m pretty sure he also went to Publix and got his car washed. He claims he has rested a lot, but that was never witnessed by anyone, and he’s been known to make up stuff like that.

What I know is that the last eight days have been marked by numerous dizzy spells, strained breathing and a fall. That’s the stuff he’s copped to. I’m sure there are other problems that my brother and I know nothing about. The pacemaker’s fine. He’s got other medical issues now, but he refuses to slow down.

I want to love him enough to let him live this stage of his life the way he wants to live it. I want to support his desire to work until his very last breath. But he’s getting weaker, and I am scared he will get hurt. I want to protect him like he always protected me. I want to make him safe. He perceives any protective measures as a challenge to his independence – and he won’t stand for that. I have come to realize that his bad judgment may be the end of him, but he doesn’t care. He’s playing his own end game.

You may be cheering for him in your head – rooting for the guy who defies his well-meaning but restrictive kids – and I probably would be too, if we weren’t talking about my own precious father. He’s the only dad I’ve got – and I want to keep him alive. I need him.

This is a hard moment. I feel fear. Big, scary fear, because I worry that Mom and Dad’s reasons for living are so tied together that, when one leaves, the other will follow. My precious mother has been severely disabled for 20 years, and I have no doubt that the only reason she lingers now in the end stages of Alzheimer’s is because she doesn’t want to miss any of dad’s visits.

A couple of months ago, a bunch of my friends rented a house at the beach near Dad’s house. He joined us for breakfast, and Daddy was such a hit that everyone insisted I bring him back for dinner.

“He’s so inspiring,” my friend Terri said. “He makes us feel good about ourselves.”

That’s what he does for this world.

For years, Dad has told me: “I love you, care about you and appreciate you.” He calls every night and says those exact words. I am so afraid of what will happen when I don’t hear his voice reminding me how much I matter.

There are a lot of people who make me feel loved, but really, the voice that matters most is Daddy’s.

I want to keep him alive forever, but he won’t let me try.

Selfless or Self-LOSS?

A neighbor of mine is torn about what to do when she and her husband lose their home to foreclosure. Any decision she makes right now has to call the question on relationship issues she hasn’t been able to confront.

First, her husband has been a serial cheater. Second, her grown kids are still in the home. Third, she continues to live where she is because of obligations to a family business where she has never been appreciated.

The job? She wishes she’d left 20 years ago, but guilt and family pressure has kept her in place. The kids? They should be on their own. The husband? Look, the guy has a history of traipsing with trollops. We don’t even need to debate that one. What is it Dear Abby used to say? “She needs him like a moose needs a hat rack.”

All of these relationships have tethered her to obligations that she doesn’t really have to allow. I told her she has to stop putting herself last on the list, and she answered, “I’m not even on the list.”

Still, she waits. She figures she has about 20 good years left in her life. I wonder if she is going to live them. Maybe the foreclosure is a prompt from the universe that will give her the opening to finally do what she needs to do in order to actually live.

I wonder if she will. Most of us worry more about hurting and disappointing others than about our own feelings. Women do that as a way of life. It used to be in vogue to label that behavior “co-dependent,” but that label simply made women feel bad for behaving in the way women always have. By definition, codependency is passively putting your own needs after the needs of others. Sorry, but women do that. Some men do that, too, but women are wired for it. We do it every day when juggling the demands of work and family and community and whatever else before we finally notice we have no time for ourselves. In the effort to be selfless, we give up our selves.

That has to stop. We get one shot. If my friend does not use this moment to clear some space to really live HER life, when will she live it? Maybe all of the chaos has come into her life to free her to do what she should have done a long time ago. And maybe it’s a reminder that we can’t waste what little time we have on this earth putting everyone else first. We shouldn’t need a foreclosure to ask ourselves how we are going to live, but sometimes it is just what is needed to call the question.

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