Get your mind out of the gutter – that’s not what I’m talking about here.
On second thought, don’t – I like your mind in the gutter. This is a pretty sinful website, after all, isn’t it?
Anyway – that really isn’t what I’m wanting to talk about today.
There have been a number of events in my life that affected me and the way that I interact with the world. These are things that have shaped who I am and how I interact with people, places, and things – but most importantly, people. These are the things that made me a hard man, that gave me an edge, that continue to give me the gravitas and presence that caused one of my former subs to remark, “you read as DOMINANT from about 1000 paces… I kind of went o.O GAH the first time I saw your photo… and you do the Dom voice.”
The funny thing is, I’m kind of moving away from that nowadays, by choice.
For much of my adult life, I’ve been hard like a brick. I was strong, with edges that were mostly sharp. But the thing about a brick is that while it’s very strong, if you pound on it long enough or hard enough, it shatters.
I had a real brick-shattering event a few years back, and it left me broken for awhile, but I learned from it, and with some minor stumbles here and there, I’ve come back stronger than I was before.
It sounds a bit arrogant to my ears, but I’d prefer to think that I’m more like water now. I seamlessly mold myself to my environment, I resist blunt force, and given time I even tear down mountains.
But it took me a long time to get here.
I grew up in a mostly boring home. I’m caucasian and have lived in California for my entire life. My father is an attorney and my mother was a stay-at-home housewife. We lived in the country, on a horse ranch. My family always seemed to have minor money troubles. My father had a very feast or famine income stream and he did none of the things that one should do to even out such things, so there were always lean times to contend with, but my biggest worries as a young child were never about the necessities of life. I was fed, clothed, housed, and had adequate medical care.
And yet, I suffered a bit from the problems that are endemic to that sort of life. My father was absent most of the time. Even when he was physically present, the power imbalance and lack of communication between my parents made him emotionally distant and my mother lived with a siege mentality. Her livelihood depended absolutely on this man who was extremely cold, mostly absent, and who derived more enjoyment from his relationships outside of the marriage than with my mother and it terrified her. She lived in a constant state of fear that he would leave her, and assumed that every relationship that he had with any other woman was a sign of infidelity. While I don’t know that was ever actually the case, he did eventually leave her, so I could go off on a tangent on the topic of whether or not that was causal or predictive, but I don’t have enough information to talk about it and don’t really care.
I have a sister, and while my strategy to deal with early life hazards and isolation was to take up the family banner and try to show the world that we were a successful family unit – she took the opposite approach, as one might expect.
To borrow from psychology, in the dysfunctional family archetypes, I was the Hero, and she was the Scapegoat. I did my best to excel in everything, and I achieved most of my goals. She refused to compete and drew all of the attention she could by acting out and getting into trouble.
And, as the popular adage goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” and she was certainly a great deal more squeaky than I was. Despite my accomplishments, within the family I tried to stay mostly invisible, but one can never completely hide from family (or relationship) dysfunction.
On the eve of my first wedding, my father met with me one-on-one and told me that I was a mistake – my mother was not meant to become pregnant when she did, and I was responsible for the misery that followed my father for the rest of his life. I forced him to abandon his dreams and to instead do the responsible thing and ‘settle down.’
As if this were not enough of a blow on its own, I further led the discussion into tones of denigration when I asked him why he gave so much more attention to my sister than he did to me, and his response was roughly, “You have such a bloated ego of your own, I figured you didn’t need any praise from me.”
Perhaps I can forgive him for failing to recognize how my outward appearance was compensating for a lack of true personal confidence, but to use diction like that with your own child seems to be pretty inexcusable to me. When he told me, “…you didn’t need any praise from me,” what I heard was, “you don’t deserve any praise from me.” This is a notion that I do still have trouble with even today, but being aware of it takes most of the sting away.
Parents out there – do not make this mistake, please. I strive to be certain that I encourage my own children without turning them into narcissists, but I also try very hard to remember that even as young children, the face that they show to the world, the face that they sometimes show even to me, does not always represent their true emotional state. Children are much better at developing and showing these false fronts than even adults can be. Love is the currency that they trade in, not dollars.
My father told me that I was a mistake and an egotist and that I didn’t need him so he didn’t either want or need me. This wasn’t exactly a revelation – after all, he’d been showing me this same behavior for my entire life, making me hard, but that act was the kiln that fired the brick that was my personality.
He repeatedly told me, throughout my youth, that I was doing things wrong, and he seemed to want to compete with me ex post facto for all of my academic and athletic achievements. Everything that I did was compared to something that he did better. Every time that I would show initiative or innovation, I was told that I was doing things wrong, if only because I didn’t do them his way.
My mother was only slightly better. She was effusive with her praise of my accomplishments, but she used my success as a lever against the mothers of the children in my peer group. For every success that one of my friends would have, something that their parents would show pride in, she would rattle off five things that I had done which were superior. I knew that she loved me, but I felt that love was always conditional. I had to continue to succeed or I would lose my vaunted place on the pedestal of achievement.
I was loved, as long as I remained ubermensch.
So I learned that love was dependent upon my supremacy. I could depend on none but myself. My place in the world was tenuous, apart, aloof, alone, dependent upon factors that I could not directly control, but oh, how I did try to control them anyway…
I was an arrogant prick in the extreme. I simply refused to acknowledge any event that did not show my superiority. I would not even try to do something that I didn’t know I would dominate. I was hard, but brittle, and my need to dominate things was established, for only through controlling every aspect of every interaction could I be certain that I would not need to depend on anyone but myself, and while I was absolutely certain of my ability to handle a small subset of possible interactions, I was completely incapable of handling anything else at all.
Eventually I came to understand how this was affecting my relationships with others. I had a few sycophant friends who would follow in my wake, lauding me for my superiority in the things that I chose to take part in, as my ego demanded, but I was completely incapable of forming lasting and meaningful relationships with anyone who refused to admit my rightful place at the top of the order.
Is this my version of 50 Shades of Fucked Up?
No, of course not. That whole notion is a logical fallacy and merely a straw man argument put forward by a woman who does not even really understand the dynamic that she was trying to portray. I do not share the bilious contempt for her work that many of my peers do, and while I have suffered events in my past that instilled coping mechanisms in me that are not always the most efficient or beneficial, I am also a reasonable and rational human being who can learn from his mistakes, and I do not think that to be a superhuman feat or that it requires finding a naive virginal personality to fix me.
I choose this lifestyle because it is something that works for me, not because I am trying to compensate for some lack of affection in my youth. The affection may have been lacking, but I’m not trying to solve the problems of my past any longer. I look to the future and I look to the things that make me happy. I look to fulfilling my genuine desires, and while those may have been informed by my past, they are not defined by it.
Of course, I am also motivated by my fears or repeating patterns that did not work for me in the past, even when I am rationally assured that the current reality does not match that old situation, and so, life is a learning process.
I’m still building my circle of friends. People who respect me for who I am and who I want to be, not people who pity me for who I once was or who want to exploit me to achieve their own goals.
And while I may be more malleable than I was in the past, I am stronger for it, and I can accept the adulation and love that I am worthy of receiving.
I’m still hard, but I’m hard in a way that lends strength rather than projects it. I am secure in myself and I offer that understanding and security to those that I choose to admit into my life. Together we are so much more than the sum of our parts. I don’t need people to be complete, but I can offer much to those that wish to join me.
This world has become hard. In many ways, the world at large is harder and more brick-like than I ever was. Just the other day I was walking through a mall and I could not help but notice how people treated each other, how strangers reacted to each other.. each unintentional bump was met with extreme vitriol, each interaction between strangers was tense. As the population increases, and the economic status of individuals continue to stratify, and the stresses on each person increase, the tension that I can feel emanating from people increases dramatically.
Those in this lifestyle who still react to stresses as I once did, those who feel the need to assert their Dominance in every situation… they are becoming more and more obsolete.
I do not think that this is a sea change, and I do not think that I have all of the perfect answers, but I do think that there is strength in malleability. There is strength in knowing when to remain silent. There is strength in seeking harmony.
Each generation says of the next that cynicism is encroaching on our values and making us hate more, that the great reckoning or the great race war or the great revolution is coming, and the fact that this motif repeats itself from generation to generation without great upheaval makes it easy to dismiss, but just because a thing is commonly misunderstood does not make it entirely false.
The songwriter Nick Lowe wrote a song in the 70’s that has come to encompass many of my feelings on this idea. The song itself has been covered many, many times by many, many artists in different genres. It’s a meme that holds true and that we can all agree with if we take a moment to lose the veneer of strength that we’re attempting to project. ‘What’s so funny about peace and understanding?’
If you are aspiring Dominant and you are reading this, know that compassion is a show of strength and Dominance. Know that you prove your worth by reasoned interactions and that while you may some day be required to hold the line, there is strength in knowing where that line needs to be drawn, and letting people in and holding compassion can be stronger than holding people at a distance.
I’m every bit as strong as I ever was – in many ways I’m much stronger – but I am nowhere near as hard as I once was, and I neither need nor want to be.
I usually think that quoting song lyrics in a blog makes for an uninteresting read, but I’m going to violate my own policy here. Think of it as poetry.. courtesy of Nick Lowe:
As I walk on through this wicked world,
Searching for light in the darkness of insanity,
I ask myself, Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain, and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I wanna know,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?
And as I walked on through troubled times,
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes,
So where are the strong?,
And who are the trusted?,
And where is the harmony?,
‘Cause each time I feel it slipping away, just makes me wanna cry,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?