Still haven’t heard from my dad in response to the reply I sent last week. It could be that he’s just processing, but it’s possible that he won’t respond at all. Again, my intent wasn’t necessarily to cut off all contact with him and the family, but that’s how he might read it.
It’s tough because this is a relationship that I feel I should want to hold on to, and yet the facts indicate that it’s a relationship that can’t go anywhere, and that it’s best to let go of.
Speaking of things I’m letting go of, a year ago this past weekend I participated in the MN Song workshop as part of the Source Song Festival in Minneapolis. It’s a festival with the mission to celebrate, promote, and develop American art song:
… by empowering and inspiring a new generation of musicians—composers, performers and audience members alike—through the creation of new works, the initiating of conversation, and the fostering of relationships within Minnesota’s vibrant community.
I’d entered one of my songs, a setting of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet IX, “If poysonous mineralls, and if that tree,” in the festival and was selected as one of the composers whose works would be workshopped and performed over the weekend.
In retrospect, this was a last-ditch effort to hold on to my identity as a musician and art song composer.
However, it quickly became clear that I was simply out of place among the other composers and musicians there—even the youngest one there. This is the curse of having enough talent to recognize when you don’t have the same gift and seeming facile ability of the others around you. It was an uncomfortable weekend overall, and was basically the final nail in the coffin of my career as a composer.
Towards the end of high school, my dad finally convinced me to major in music composition. It was obvious that I didn’t have the talent for piano performance, and for a while I was planning to major in English (which would’ve been about as useful as a music performance degree), but I assumed that my dad knew what he was talking about as a professional-level musician.
And that’s what I did.
In hindsight, that was one of many pieces of what other people were telling my about myself that I attempted to make fit, never questioning whether those things were true or accurate. For a while it seemed that I was a talented composer. My music was complex and challenging, and that set me apart in the music department at Northwestern College. However, as I came to realize after graduating, that was a very small tidal pool in a very large pond.
And on this side of atheism, that musical identity belongs to someone else, to a person who existed only as a mirror for others’ expectations—people I looked to as authority figures to tell me who I was.
There’s a quote of Julia Sweeney’s from her show Letting Go of God that I’m particularly fond of: “If I look over my life, every single step of maturing for me has had the exact same common denominator: and that’s accepting what was true over what I wished were true.”
As I’ve been delving more into learning about philosophy and the different schools of thought, I’ve come across the views of English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott.
This video triggered a number of things from my upbringing that probably won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog. While my childhood wasn’t the living nightmare of physical or sexual abuse that occasionally makes press, as I’ve come to realize over the last few years it was still incredibly toxic on account of my parents’ theology and the theology of our churches.
Like most children raised in fundamentalist religions, I grew up experiencing conditional love and acceptance. My parents preached the importance of showing unconditional love, yet their behavior taught something of the opposite. Compliance and adherence to Biblical rules (as they interpreted them) was heavily stressed. In order for our parents to be happy with us (or at least to avoid punishment), we had to exhibit good Christian behavior.
If we didn’t, it was a sign that we didn’t belong to God and were in danger of the fires of hell.
Of course, my parents had no idea what they were doing. They admitted to making mistakes along the way, but they ultimately believed that this was the right thing, that it was the godly was to bring up spiritually healthy children.
They didn’t know how psychologically fragile and impressionable children are; that teaching a child that they’re inherently sinful could translate to the belief that they’re inherently bad; that these lessons were shaping how their child would relate to other human beings later in life, and to their sense of self-worth or security.
Neither could they have expected that this way of bringing me up would lead to the developing of a sense of false self, to the reflexive repressing of my self, to shutting down, to going out of my way to please everyone out of a fear of disapproval and rejection.
So while I may have had two parents, a roof over my head, and my physical needs met, I lacked real security and the freedom to grow up at a normal pace.
It’s ultimately why I ended up majoring in music composition, why I tried so hard for so long to be a composer, why I applied to grad school for music composition, why I spent countless hours practicing piano as a teenager, why I entered that piece in the Source Song Festival.
This is why I’m focusing on being with people who I do feel accepted by/secure with, why I’m pursuing things that make me truly happy and that feel authentic, and why I’m stopping myself doing things for the approval of others.
It’s daunting, but my inner child deserves better than what he got.