Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: women (page 1 of 2)

Vulnerability is the Endless Way Back

Twitter is like someone  sitting next to you while you write. And as soon as you look up, she winks at you. Then you go back to writing again. Until you stop and she winks at you again.  Until you put down the pen or stylus and return the look.  For you realise that she has been waiting for you. And when you do, you have to stop yourself from staring. For something new has appeared.

As happened to me when I looked up after Twitter winked at me. That Twitter eye catcher was Trust, and the Only Fruitful Response to Betrayal in Intimate Relationships Maria Popova’s review of Martha Nussbaum’s book, Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice (public library).

I can only rely upon the book excerpts in the blog. And similarly to the blog, my experience was eerily similar.  Except I’m now staring aghast at this new thing I’ve learned.

Yes I was betrayed. My trust was utterly vapourised. And me being me, I told myself it was my own fault for being so vulnerable. And not being watchful enough.

Yet vulnerability as that blog above states is the way back. For me, the other ways didn’t work.  If there are better ways, I’d be happy to  learn.

I falsely thought I had forgiven the betrayals.  No I had simply coloured over the incidents. And yet I remember many things clearly, for instance, the pattern and colour of my baby high chair.  Until four years later when the perpetrator recalled them. Then my life was a video replay of the content that I won’t divulge here. When challenged, the perpetrator denied them completely. I was still focussed on the act rather than being angry at the person who did it as Nussbaum states.

That betrayal still constantly denied,  found me and made its home in me. Have you ever had anger turn in on itself and feed itself? Still my response was repression, ignoring the video replay in my mind and the taunts in my ears the best I could. Nussbaum refers to my feelings as a status injury, which made me an ex-husband well before I separated!

Then three years later, she admitted the betrayal was true! I still recall the date, the time of day, the light that afternoon, the trees in the driveway, where the car was, where she was standing, where I was standing and how I reacted. I chose suppression. I said nothing and walked away. I had to.

But this time the anger was different. It wanted truth over revenge. It took me eight or nine months. Until I confronted her. She denied it again. This and every other time I had focussed on the first incident. That night, for the first time, I described the exact details of the second incident including the danger I experienced. There was no response. For all defences had collapsed.

This time, no answer was an admission of truth. She knew it too. Afterwards, I would joke to myself that like the spies say, “Everybody talks”, that is everyone tells the truth eventually. Yet the truth can also be told by omission. For what had been excluded had finally formed the real picture.

After the admission, came the explanation. I shook my head and walked away from that too.  It was a contradiction of present words versus previous actions! I can laugh at its inanity now. Then I was too sad. When I was angry afterwards, I had nothing to feed now I had found out the truth. And being angry just made me tired and sad. I suppose I had met the truth at last.

That was the way out. And in time I left.

But the problem with grief is that it is so easy to keep it at a distance. I was simply afraid that if I didn’t it would overwhelm me and crush me. Then I would have to admit I was vulnerable.

Which it did. It took another relationship for that. And this is where Maria Popova’s  blog devastates me. For one cannot ignore grief. I had read about grief in Kluber-Ross On Death and Dying, but I never really had it happen to me.

Grief? It’s the wave taller than you that flips you and lifts you then throws you down to the sea floor until you become sand.

It leaves you with nothing. But I knew that. I just didn’t want to experience it!

From nothing, all I could do was renew. I think what I was doing was Kintsugi reassembling broken pottery with gold!

That was the way back. I did what I needed to renew and review. From that nothing, I studied, I wrote, I walked, I listened to music, I had people appear and help me, I made friends and I started a charity. Every day I looked for joy. And nearly all the time, I found it although I was still unexpectedly surprised!

I consider myself lucky that I could get through. Not all of us can. It is better to admit vulnerability and ask for help. I have done, I still do, although I find it challenging. The road is not ending anytime soon.  And as I have found there are switchbacks and recurrences.

So often, one forgets those times and are then unprepared for its recurrence. And still unprepared to recall the resilience that saved.  Besides I don’t like fairy tale endings. Living happily ever after almost certainly is death by boredom!

Now that I’m out of the fairy tale, there is learning ahead. I learnt and am still learning to trust myself. I learnt and am still learning to accept my vulnerabilities. Then I learnt and am still learning to forgive myself.  It sounds so trite and easy but it’s ruddy well not!  I have not always succeeded either and there are relapses. That’s what the self-help books don’t tell you. The road is endless.

In there, somewhere, I don’t know where exactly, I learnt to forgive the betrayer, the betrayal and free myself. And leave them to deal with it.

In truth as Nussbaum writes, all of this runs closely together. For I had chosen all this. I was therefore responsible for the negative consequences. I know better why I chose it and I’m the wiser (not yet wise) for it.

I’m also responsible for the positive consequences which is, once you get through the worst, you know what you can get through, then you look back and discover life has given you a bonus. That was last week’s truth.

Now I’m left with today’s truth. Betrayal, misusing trust and taking advantage of the vulnerable is too difficult a life to bear isn’t it? Yet such behaviours are an admission of vulnerability from the perpetrators too.

For them, the road hasn’t yet begun. For me it has yet to finish.

 

Your Breath

Watching you stumble from one breath to another, I'm trying to breathe for you. I want to Inhale the oxygen, and pass it through my lungs into yours. And from there into that heart that I love so much. And take your breath and exhale it all for you. But I cannot. All I can do and it seems of no use at all is hold your hand. And wait and hope. We always wanted you to grow to a fullness that would exceed ours. But right now I don't know if that will happen. And my fear is that you'll catch my doubt. A doubt enough for youto quietly slip out that door with perhaps barely a nod to us as you leave.

As for your mother, she doesn't know. And that's what she cannot handle. A little uncertainty perhaps which can be overlooked or postponed. But not the uncertainty that is now resident. She worries that it will take over and we will be living moment to moment. She can't say that to me as it would betoo great a worry. She won't say that to you. Or even afterwards. No matterhow things turn out.

You're not as tough as you thought you were. This illness is your companionnow and ours too. I could advise you:  if you can do something, don't worryand if you can't do something, then do nothing and don't worry.  I can't 
take my own advice. I simply don't know how it will turn out. And I can't 
tell anyone, least of all you.

So I should make myself comfortable I suppose. I try not to look at the numbers and zig zags on the machine. Me being me, automatically I try and analyse them to determine a trend. The numbers seem unchanging like a clock that keeps time but never tells it. I grab a spare pillow, wedge it against myplastic hospital grade chair and find a position of least discomfort. 
Unlike yourself.

Tubes run into you and out. For a moment, I hope that it's all unreal, thatjust for fun, they've attached them to your skin only. I'm really waiting for someone to rush in and say it's all been a joke. And you'd wake and 
laugh with me too, until we thought of how to tell your mother. But she 
might see the fun in it too.

There's no change in the numbers or the fuzzy lines on any of the machines.
The door opens. Men and women rush in. Your eyes flickers open. I'm raised to my feet and quickly shoved outside. A joke? No a sarcastic cosmic one. Ishout out in my head, that was a random thought, I was idly thinking, 
I didn't mean it. Much as a child, I fear the horrible thought made true.

I wait for news and fear the over calm manner of those who deliver it.

Suffering Is a Superpower

Bleed out drop by drop,
Breathe out gasp by gasp,
Lose time tick for tock,
And love beat by beat.

Each day darkens upon dark,
Each touch lessens its loss,
I watched my heart disappear,
Shrivelled and dried by fear.

Push me away, slap my face,
Shove me to the wall, that’s my place,
Punch my chest, kick my head,
I fend off the blow. And now I’m dead.

For you’ve found the impetus enough for you,
Though I’ve stopped you, you take your revenge,
I see it double inside you as i double up too,
For many are the offences I could avenge.

I could easily kindle that evil in me,
Take hold of your rage and reciprocate,
Your anger as mine, now pure and clear,
But surrendered to the void of fear.

I know and see that you’ve suffered,
I’ve been racked by your loss unsalved,
If I could, I would offer you comfort,
But I found the healer was killed by the cure.

And now with my heart spent,
I am poured out and empty,
All I have left are questions
To ask of you, one or two, if I may?

Will you let this dissolve you?
As you enjoy the hurt cast on others too,
Now, my question is better said:
Would total revenge be a comfort to you?

Or would it, a second one, if I may ask,
Be a false cure to a pain eternal,
An acid that melts a dying heart,
And bile that burns your mouth?

Perhaps I may suggest an answer,
Diffcult though it may yet be.
A hope perhaps still shrouded
But it may be happening to me.

Out beyond the passing pain,
Lies a desert now watered by rain,
And in it an oasis of comfort and healing,
Where you’ll rest and regain your healing.

And there you will rest and be restored,
There you’ll receive a power conferred,
There you’ll learn to love your suffering,
And that will be the superpower.

Baby Crush

A bald head crowned by a few curls peeks out. Two eyes large and watchful wait and see what I might do.

I’m not moving. I stand silent. I’m a daddy statue.

Tiny hands cover her eyes. She tries to catch my gaze.

No way. I’m having no part of it. Not yet.

She opens them. She peeks carefully at me. Then covers herself with the blanket.

“Peep bo!” The blanket speaks.

That’s my moment. My eyes close. Although I keep the good one only an eighth open. Enough to cheat. Enough not to get caught.

Each time she closes her eyes, I open mine. Each time I see her open her eyes, I close mine!

Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. “Peep Bo!”

“Peep bo!” I say again. Before the blanket went on.

I chuckle as the blanket giggles and rolls on the floor. Then smile at her laughter while she wriggles her way out. Usually she beats me to it. Then as she unwravels…

“Peep Bo!” She got me that time.

The blanket again wraps itself up. It giggles and rolls on the floor. Then she crawls out. And stands a little taller than this morning. Now her jumpsuit is too small for her. But that’s no matter now.

Two arms stretch to the sky. She starts to waggle her fingers. Twinkle twinkle? Yes i’m happy to sing that with her. But no peeking. Otherwise she’ll catch me lip syncing.

Then she stops stock still.

No. I was lucky there. Then not so lucky.

“Jump game.”

Oh no! Daddy workout time.

Arms stretch high. “As high as the sky.”

I squat down. I waddle towards her. I put my shoulders under her arms. Then my hands around her waist.

I lift her up. Until her head is level with mine. Her eyes are already laughing. Daddy’s doing the heavy lifting now.

I stand up and throw her high into the air.

Giggles, then laughter.

I stop just before I let her go. I’m not a dad, I’m an astronaut trainer. Besides she’ll never get vertigo from me!

“Again. High as the sky.”

More deep squats. More overhead presses. My knees ache. My shoulders sing. I sneak a glance at my burden.

She’s frozen in time!! One arm up, one arm out, frozen in a ballet pose.

Carefully I shift her to my stronger arm. I lean forward, most weight pushed backward and draw back the coverlet, sheet and blanket. Then i place her in her bed as if one false move would be the last. She slumps flaccid in her bed. I cover her up. I start to lightly leave…

Her hand finds my finger. And crushes it. I hold my breath. I listen to her breath slow and deep measuring eternity one second at a time.

Yes parenthood is a vocation, it’s not a job. But if someone can tell me how to remove a child’s hand from my finger without waking her, I’d be really grateful!

Waiting for The Sequel

A Not So Crowded TrainOn a not-so-crowded train. She is the only one standing. Back pressed against the only space that is neither seat nor door. Light brown curly but wiry hair, clear open face, same colour eyes (my best guess as far as I can see), all fully engrossed and engaged.

The bumps and lurches of the train don’t bother her. She just doesn’t lose balance. She sways slightly to the rhythm of the carriage. She is not dancing though. Perhaps inwardly.

Her head is bowed. As if in prayer or contemplation.  And her forehead is smooth. Her face serene. And I watch to see if she will raise her head. It’s not just to look at her face.  For I’m curious as to her quiet calm and innate peace. Now she is even more fully engrossed and engaged. With her hands held up in front of her.

Not a newspaper. Not a smart phone. Not a magazine. Not even one of those slate-sized flickering whispering mini TVs.

For a second, time stops and everything around her is removed. So much so that I stop and wonder and look again.  Yes, now I know what it is. It’s like she’s behind a lectern. She’s reading. A tattered dog-eared hardback with yellow threads fraying the red cover. No title that I can see. The Story

I wait to see if she’ll read what holds her so aloud.

For the last person that held out a book like that let me read it.

And I wanted to read it aloud : it was that good…a children’s book too…

Perhaps I’m waiting for the sequel.

I Saw You Listen

I saw her walk past me. With a friend. They sat down opposite each other.

I chose not to notice. But out of the corner of my eye I could see her head bobbing and moving.

I glanced for a second. But she wasn’t talking.

But my intuition nudged me. There’s something more happening here. Watching

I glanced again.  And then I understood.

She’s listening. To everyone. To her friend in front of her. To the people across the aisle on the train. To the people passing through. She was awake and alive and alert to all occurring around her.

She alighted off  the train.  She and her friend walked in front of me.  A crowd of us were taking the bus from Caulfield to Darling.

She sat near me. Or I sat near her.

She listened to her friend show her phone photos. She listened to the two children on her left. She laughed while they played peep-bo while sticking out their tongues! She listened as the girl next to me gave up her seat before I had even thought of it.

She was awake and alive and alert to all occurring around her.

And the joy she gave me was watching someone really listen.

Why Doesn’t Gillian Triggs Leave? #IStandWithGillianTriggs

Last night’s ABC Q and A on domestic violence and the ongoing bullying of Gillian Triggs by the LNP would appear to have little to do with each other. But to me both events are more synchronous than coincidental.

Last night Q and A exposed some of the private stories of domestic violence. Today the Senate hearing that interviewed Gillian Triggs exposed the ongoing public corporate violence towards an individual.

Whether public or private, individual or groups, all of these stories run in parallel. They have the same theme. Much like Anastasia Steele in the movie 50 Shades of Grey, Professor Triggs and domestic violence victims all have been offered a deal.

Just do as you’re told. Don’t disagree. Don’t fight back. And all will go well with you.

Much like Rosie Batty, Gillian Triggs and the many victims of domestic violence, that deal involves accepting the unacceptable. As Julie McKay writes, it’s about giving into power.

What’s unacceptable includes having your parenting abilities called into question (both Rosie Batty and Gillian Triggs), being subject to gaslighting, having false rumours and allegations spread about you, etc, etc, right up to and including mental, physical and sexual violence.

What’s then unacceptable is then being asked “Why Don’t You Just Leave?” as if finding new accommodation, packing and leaving, paying rent and bond whilst leaving a relationship is easy. Rosie Batty’s response to Joe Hildebrand and her eloquent words last night say more than enough.

What’s also unacceptable is being implicitly asked to leave a role and then possibly promised another for not towing the line (See transcript).

As to the question “Why Doesn’t Gillian Triggs Leave?” No her perpetrators should. At least we know who they are.

And then we can focus on the children.

 

 

Do It In A Dress : More Than Educating Girls

School Children When I walked into my gym I got a pleasant shock.

The receptionist was wearing a school uniform.

I started laughing. I knew why. Last time I saw someone in a school uniform, it was for the same  cause: Do it in a Dress.

Do It In A Dress is a fund raising campaign for the One Girl charity  to ensure that girls are educated in Africa.

So why is a man writing about educating girls?

Because it’s personal.

I’ve seen first hand the power of educating girls. If only from a first world point of view.

Sixty years ago, my maternal grandfather died too early. He left a large family. Consequently,he left his wife (my maternal grandmother) some major challenges.

Not the least of which was financial.

Which created an educational problemEducation. Should she encourage all the family members to get the best education? Just the boys? Or the girls as well?

The choice she made has reverberated and resonated down three generations (and counting).

She encouraged both her sons and daughters to get the best education. And against all odds, all the children did way better than their circumstances would ever let them.

One of those daughters became a teacher and mother to me.

Whether she was teaching or not, in school or out of school, my mother lived the importance of having a great education. She knew that an education gives you choices.

Which is why I’m choose to be educated. And still am being educated.

Hopefully I’ve encouraged my children in the same way. They’re educating themselves too. And realising the wider choices they have.

Now taking this story back into the third world, educating girls obviously creates an immensity of choices for girls.

And all of their children and their children’s children.

 

The Parent Trap (Who Are The Best Parents?)

It was a great party. I’m mingling with strangers asking them how they knew the guest of honour. It was easy. All I had to do was be quiet and let them talk.

Businesswoman Blowing Out the Candles on Her Birthday Cake

I was having a very enjoyable time until…

The conversation turned to parenting. Initially it was easy to listen. I’m a parent and the speaker just happened to be the second best looking  person in the room.

But then this one person put it to me that only natural parents are the best parents.

I was taken aback.  I didn’t really respond. I side stepped and said that all parenting is challenging. Then I side stepped again and changed  the subject. Then ended the conversation and spoke to someone else. Thinking back it really wasn’t much of a response at all.

Since then however that idea that only natural parents are the best has recurred. The last time it recurred it was refuted by my children (see Mothers Day is for Everyone). Not by me. Otherwise I’ve tried to ignore it. Until the latest recurrence. Then I got what being a parent really is.

We’re sitting at a table and my friend looks out the window. She sees a child crying and instantly is involved. I look and see that he has just fallen over. His mother quickly picks him up.  I look again and his mother has enfolded him in her arms. I said he’ll be comforted in a minute. And he was. Travelers with Baby in Stroller

And then a family walks in. Two adults and a small child. They’re meeting friends. The child jumps up and laughs as each adult leans down and gives him a high-five. Again my friend is enjoying herself. As am I. Until…

The conversation turns to parenting.

But it’s different this time.  My friend reveals that she had been a step mother. Listening to her story, I sense here is someone who became a parent through circumstance and thoroughly embraced and enjoyed it. Listening to what my friend says encapsulates exactly what I did and how I felt and acted as a parent. Listening to what she says completely challenges the view of the woman I met at the party. I hope they never meet. On second thought they should meet. It would be an interesting conversation.

But the question remains unanswered. Is physically having a child the only prerequisite to being a good parent?

In no way am I denigrating the physical bond between mother and child. I have friends and relatives who have lost children through miscarriage and early death. The pain is absolutely indescribable and always unforgettable. Even as a parent I can offer no empathy just mere sympathy.

But if the woman at the party is right, then there are quite a few groups of people who would be excluded from being a good parent.

The first and most extensive would be men. The ineligibility of men as parents is happily embraced by mainstream advertising : dumb inept father and smart adept mother.  That ineptitude is being refuted by the all too rare stories of men who are successful sole parents or stay at home parents. Obviously they neither identify with nor are discouraged by that stereotype.

Then there are foster parents. Whilst working as a trainer for a government department I remember reading a newsletter praising a pair of long-time foster parents. These people had looked after children in all kinds of hardship for over thirty years.  Not only were they ineligible but they didn’t retain the children. Yet they were certainly parents and recognised as such.

Next are adoptive parents. I can recall conversing with a woman who was adopting her second children from overseas. To adopt even in this country is a difficult process yet to adopt again from overseas was well-nigh impossible. Even after the first child she still did not know what to expect. But she was going to be a parent though ineligible.

Dad with little son outdoors at ocean

And finally step parents. Much like my friend and my ex-partner and even me, the strong natural bond just doesn’t  exist. Consequently, there’s that initial sense of I’m not really a parent. In that place it’s easy to walk away or not get  involved. Yet there is a child that needs love and help and that supersedes anything else. And you either embrace it  or you don’t.

 The next time I see my friend, the conversation again turns to parenting. I tell her the Mothers Day is for  Everyone story. She gets it.

And in telling the story I finally get it. The best parents are those who choose freely to be a parent and embrace it  wholeheartedly.

Sex and Vacuuming : A Game of Mutual Selfishness

Kathy Lette’s If Your Wife Doesn’t Want Sex Then Try Doing the Vacuumming article echoes the Annabel Crabb‘s The Wife Drought re having it all and needing a wife.

Like the old expression, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage“, there isn’t much of that anymore.

Yes, unfortunately, I’ve heard this all before.

In the throes of a disintegrating marriage, I turned to reading books many of which made the same recommendations.

The prescribed panacea was that if a man did more housework or spent less time with his mates, marital bliss awaits.

In truth I did step up and I fervently believe that men should (see Having It All). But there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. Not that reciprocation was my motivation.

Unfortunately, the opposite argument is of course is that the woman should do more. As set out by Laura Doyle in her book the Surrendered Wife where women need to step up so the man can step down. Again there’s the implicit guarantee of reciprocation.

These viewpoints seem to treat marriage as some sort of reality show (Wife Swap perhaps?). Marriage is seen as a game where you amass points for doing the right thing, are penalised for doing the wrong thing and receive or forgo prizes. Marriage in this light seen as territorial and transactional with winners and losers.

My real problem with all of this is that both viewpoints are both motivated by the guarantee or expectation of reciprocation. If I do this, I get that and if you do this, you get that.

What that creates is a relationship based on mutual selfishness. Both partners keep score and amass points and expect to be rewarded. The problems occur over keeping track of the points, rewards, penalties and prizes. From my personal experience after arguing over that there’s little energy left for vacuuming or sex.

Nor does it foster much love. Nor create an environment that fosters compassion and generosity.

So what’s left from this? My dull insight is this. Perhaps we could try an unselfish love for oneself and for others for a change? Perhaps we could create an environment of compassion and generosity?

 

 

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