Becoming Me

Like many Americans I have been concerned with much that is going on within our culture. What I especially find troubling is the lack of honest discourse because of the fear of being branded hateful, bigoted, or fear of being on the wrong side of an issue. The tragedy is that the only way to learn how you truly feel about any issue is the exchange of ideas and perspective with others. The result of this kind of fear is that everyone places themselves within “camps” of people who are like minded and then are seldom called upon to defend their ideas and assumptions. It is in thinking through–developing–your position that you gain real understanding of any given issue. What really hurts me is that our young people are being betrayed by the very individuals that should encourage and mediate this kind of debates–no matter the subject. Growing up in the sixties I still recall the heated debates that were going on around me and not only on campus. Without these discourses we miss out on the richness of diversity found in our country and remain locked in our ignorance and misunderstandings.

Anyway, I did not start down this avenue to simply vent and if you are still reading thank you for hanging in there. No, I began this because I recently found a paper that I wrote in college. The overall course was about leadership but the paper was part of a required personal case study. While skimming it I found myself experiencing a bit of the emotions that doing this case study had evoked. This led me to a sense of gratitude to God for the way in which He has worked in and through my life over the years.

I debated with myself but in the end I just felt led to share a part of it with you all. No worries, I am not sharing it in total just a few paragraphs.

In 1968 Sammy Davis Jr. sang the following song:

Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong
Whether I find a place in this world or never belong
I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

And to quote Shakespeare:

This above all: 
To thine own self be true,
for it must follow as dost the night the day,
that canst not then be false to any man. 

(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3)

I could not help but think about this bit of prose from Shakespeare as I worked through this paper.  The purpose of this paper is to do, in essence, just as Shakespeare exhorted:  to be true to myself and by doing so, I can then in turn be true (genuine) to those I have been called to serve and lead.  However, in order to achieve this knowledge it is essential that one delve into one’s past to discover the truth of one’s nature.

Reggie McNeal in Practicing Greatness (Jossey-Bass, 2006) breaks this down into three disciplines: the discipline of self-awareness, discipline of self-management, and discipline of self-development. God develops a person over a life time of experiences as well as their choices and decisions made by the individual.  There are tests of character that God uses to hone and fine tune those he calls out. 

Having set out the context I share with you a part of my story.

The night was so dark that you could not see your hand held inches from your face. There were no street lights there in the mountains of West Virginia; actually there was no street there at the head of the “holler” where my grandparents lived.  The red glow of cigarettes looked like dancing stars to my four year old eyes. It was late and my sisters and cousins were sound asleep but I was drawn to the noise of revelry caused by men who had too much to drink. What drew me to peek out at this scene was Daddy.  My father was out there with his brother and other men I did not know.  I was ‘daddy’s little girl.’  I was the “spittin’ image” of my father.  I was thrilled to hear things like, “you look so much like him he’ll never be able to disown you;” “aren’t you Arvil’s daughter?  You look just like him.”  I wanted to be in my father’s presence even if I had to sneak out into the dark corner of the porch to do so.  

After four daughters, my mother was determined to name this last child, boy or girl, for her husband.  I do not know if I was a disappointment to my parents, but I can honestly say that I never felt any kind of disappointment from them for being female. I became, in essence, daddy’s “son.” I was a ‘tomboy’ that loved to do all of those things usually attributed to boys: climb trees, fight, play ball. But in spite of this, I have few memories of actually doing any of these things with my father.  He was so trapped in alcoholism that there was never any time left to be the father that his children needed.

As I look back over these days I see a little girl who is her father’s daughter, knew that she was loved but nonetheless often felt bereft of her father’s attention.  My relationship with my father shaped my life in ways that laid a foundation for the person I have become.  

“Baby, Daddy’s dead.” Those words hit me like a physical blow.  I thought he was getting better.  I should never have thought about what life would be like if Daddy died. Was I somehow responsible for his death? These kinds of thoughts flooded my nine year old brain as I ran into my mother’s arms. 

I am going to leave the story here and will continue with it in installments as it is difficult to tell and time consuming to edit.

As Sammy sang in ’68:

I’ll go it alone, that’s how it must be
I can’t be right for somebody else
If I’m not right for me
I gotta be free, I just gotta be free
Daring to try, to do it or die
I gotta be me

1 thought on “Becoming Me”

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