Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My father's daughter

On more than one occasion, my father's desire to connect with humanity clashed with his impulsive mouth. My mom frequently scolded him about his friendliness at the grocery store leading to women flashing their wedding rings. I swear he wasn't a flirt. He just loved people. And the rule about never asking a female her due date? Broken by Dad. Pressing personal questions? Cluelessly asked by Dad. Never to know a stranger, Dad was lovable, cute, and annoying.

I have become my father.

I find myself in public settings actively looking for groups attempting to snap a good photo, hell-bent on not leaving the picture-taking member out of the magic. "Excuse me, could I take the picture for you? I insist." When I see someone discreetly try to blend in after a scoop of ice cream has slumped off of her cone, I boldly offer  "life is full of melting moments, isn't it?" hoping that my pun-cliche-wisdom will turn a smile. The other day, at the gym, a father was trying to reign in a temper-tantruming toddler as the family was departing from the pool, and I offered, "Don't ya just wish you'd left ten minutes ago? Meltdowns always happen at the I right?"

He wasn't in the mood. I may have well have asked when was his due date.

Know your audience, Tricia. Know your timing, Tricia. Know when to hold back, Tricia. .

Connecting with humanity involves mutually sharing something. Watching the same thing happen. Finding the same thing funny. Relating to the same view. Having the same sense of fashion or passion about food or infatuation with germs. And when attempting to connect with the slice of humanity who you do NOT know (STRANGERS, my dad's and my favorite slice with whom to make a spontaneous connection), some risks are involved, because you don't really know what you share. Sometimes it means assuming. And we all know about assuming. When it works, it REALLY works and when it doesn't, it REALLY doesn't. So, naturally, making an ass of oneself is a connecting-with-strangers hazard.

Let me paint a picture for you: You are exiting Costco with your kiddos and you observe off to the side of that narrowing check-your-receipt line a father/daughter pair. She, a seven to ten year old or so. He, a huskier gentleman wearing a camouflage baseball hat... Pretty manly-looking fellow. And then you see the magical connection point. A purple leather purse over his shoulder. WHAT A GOOD DUDE! THEY'RE WAITING FOR HIS WIFE/HER MOM WHILE SHE SQUIRTS MUSTARD ON HER HOTDOG OR SOMETHING. AND HE'S HOLDING HIS WIFE'S PURSE. AND OWNING IT, ADORNING IT ON HIS BROAD-ASSED SHOULDER., you think. And instantly you like this guy. You think he must be a) fun and b) have a good sense of humor. So you make the reach as you and your shopping cart and your brood pass by, "Nice purse, man. Color looks good on you."

And you instantly regret it. Because he doesn't have the expression on his face you expected, the wrinkles around the eyes, smiling expression that says, "SURE, I'LL CONNECT WITH YOU, FELLOW STRANGER! THANKS FOR NOTICING THE SILLINESS OF THIS PURSE! HA. HA. HA. HA. HA. HA. HA. HA. HA. HA. WE SHARED A GOOD LAUGH OUTTA THIS MOMENT TOGETHER, DIDNT WE, PERSON-I-DON'T-KNOW?" Instead, you get nothing. Nothing, but a man who clearly looks super-uncomfortable. No words. Maybe a couple of uncomfortable syllables. But definitely  no words. And you push your cart on as fast as you possibly can, thinking... Know your audience. Know your timing. Know when to hold back.

This may or may not have happened. To. Me.

In light of Caitlin Jenner and LBGT pride month and folks doing things with their clothes and bodies that doesn't always match with a conventional single-dimensional identity, my thoughts immediately pegged camouflage-hat-man's response to my comment as an indication that he was relatively new at trying out purse-wearing. I'm loading up my kids in the car, ignoring their requests for a few pretzels out of the barrel of them in the trunk, snapping at them just to exist instead of bugging me and in my head I'm scolding myself for going and making an innocent gender-role-assumption with a cute, clever little funny. When perhaps he really DID think his purse was nice and he really DID feel the color looked good. And my funny really WASN'T funny. By the time I got home, I was convinced that I had offended my first LBGT individual.

It sort of horrified me. First and foremost, it horrified me because I do not like any part of me that ecould make any part of another feel icky. Secondly, it horrified me because the knee-jerk problem-solving I came up with for avoiding unintentionally making another ever feel icky again involved not assuming ANYTHING ANYMORE. In a world where there are so many different combinations of groupings of people and families and clothing, the safest thing IS to never assume. Gone are the days when seeing a man and a woman and two children means there is the mom, the dad, and their biological offspring. We have stepparents. We have adopted children. We have pregnant women housing a child not biologically theirs. We have bisexuals. We have those who choose not to identify. We have guys wearing purses. And I know there are lots of people who would read the previous seven sentences and assume that they were written doggingly. As in, WHAT THE HELL HAS THIS PLACE COME TO? But that's not my position. Rather, my horror comes with the follow up thought, "well, if I want to avoid hurting another, then I have to stop assuming, and if I have to stop assuming, that means I have to stop taking risks to connect with strangers, and if I have to stop taking risks to connect with strangers, that sorta takes away the thunder of ME. And all I'll have left for strangers is a friendly smile."

Which is what the rest of the world calls appropriate socializing.

But, remember, I was socialized by my father. And I really do, at the end of the day, believe that the world needs more playful behaviors. I believe, if innocent, they are refreshing and amusing and disarming to a sometimes hardened world, a world where not letting your bubble intersect with another's bubble at all costs is considered polite. But all those mutually exclusive bubbles bumping up against each other in public places looks sorta lonely to me. Not to mention boring.

This is what I keep telling myself as I've grown more and more comfortable since this event with the notion of refusing to stop being me. I find comfort in the belief that there must be some sort of free-pass card for the goofily gutsy  in this increasingly complex and diverse society... That as long as I am inclusive and loving in my heart, my errors will be forgiven by the innocently wronged. It's all I can hope for, I suppose.

That's not to say that there isn't still a lot of room for improvement, though, in my social skills. Particularly about knowing my audience, my timing, and when to hold back. Tact is tact is tact. Dad, we'll be learning together!

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