Have you ever heard something so profound that your life was changed on the spot? Maybe it was a powerful sermon in church or a motivational speech from a coach. Or, maybe it was the first time a crush said they, “liked you”. Or, maybe it was the first time you heard, “Luke, I am your father” or “dude, where’s my car?” After giving this some thought, my life was changed the first time I heard my father tell me, “I’m sorry.”
I was probably 11 years old or so at the time. We were at the side of my childhood home when those words were said. There’s a good chance my dad told me he was sorry before this time, but this was the moment where I remembered its importance.
Prior to apologizing, my dad had accused me of being involved with a group of kids who had knocked down the mailbox of our school’s assistant principal. The kids had knocked it down after failing to blow it up with fireworks. As this wasn’t out of the realm of my possibility (see A Tale of Two Pyros for support), my father had accused me of being in on the plot after hearing about the incident from a neighbor.
In his defense, I had probably thought about blowing up this particular mailbox one or twenty times in the past, but lucky for me, this group of neighborhood kids didn’t invite me for their successful mission.
I can’t remember how the real perpetrators were ever found out, but after a period of time, it became known that I was wrongly accused like Andy Dufresne from Shawshank Redemption. That’s when my Dad pulled me aside from my friends (we were playing in the front yard at the time) and told me he was sorry.
Up to this point in my life, Dad had crafted a careful imagine of being a strong guy, showing little emotion and one who was nearly always right (because he was nearly always right). He demanded respect and I generally gave it to him. But it was during this moment that I saw a new side of my Dad. One where he wasn’t perfect – just the opposite in fact. Seeing this chink in his armor brought me closer to him. I’ve always loved my dad, but I loved him a little more that day for admitting his mistake and patting me on the back.
Today, there is a great propensity for people to highlight themselves in a constantly positive light. This aura of perfection is found endlessly on social media, tabloid magazines, commercials, resumes, and elsewhere. Chasing the aura of perfection, I’ve often found myself posting the “best” photos of myself on facebook (and deleting the bad ones), stressing about the title of a blog post, placing blame on my wife for a plan going sideways, attempting to craft the perfect career, or agonizing over whether or not our trailer is parked in the absolutely perfect campsite to see the stars, sunset, and moon all at the same time.
Chasing this unobtainable perfection has gotten me nowhere. The only thing it has gotten me is a good amount of worry, doubt, and stress.
Recently, there’s been a good amount of attention around Mark Manson’s NY Times bestselling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I’ve got a copy but haven’t read it yet (my reading list is backed up like 495 traffic). What I’ve gathered from friends who have read it is, those of us who can roll with the tide (and not give a f*ck when things aren’t perfect, because things are never perfect) are more likely to live happier lives. To me, this is a mindfulness approach with more colorful language and it makes a lot of sense to me. “Laugh off the little things”, “this too shall pass,” “don’t give a f*ck”, whatever mantra works for you, the message is all the same.
Trying to be perfect or live the perfect life? It’s an approach that in my experience, leads to unhappiness. Now, shooting for imperfection? That’s something we can all obtain, in fact, we already have it!
My father has certainly f*cked up plenty in his life (not the Mark Manson version), but when he pulled me aside at the side of our house and said he was sorry, he was perfect. Here’s to having the courage to admit our faults, say sorry (to ourselves and others), and move on with our f*cked up imperfect lives.