Years ago when my daughters were high school age one of them asked me this question. “Dad are you sexist?” I answered “I don’t think that any male raised in this culture can categorically say I am totally free from sexism. But I will promise you this. If I see sexism in myself I will deal with it immediately”.
I am a long time member of a 12 step program. One of the 12 steps suggests that I make a totally honest, self inventory of myself. I had a sponsor named Elsa. She spoke of of her time in the program in decades not years. Part of her responsibility as my sponsor was to help me work the steps.
I worked long and hard on my 4th Step inventory. I desperately wanted to empty myself of the remorse and anger that were inside of me. When I felt I had successfully done my inventory I shared it with her. She accepted it graciously and then said “George, I still feel there is something left out that you need to explore. Take a few more weeks and see if your Higher Power will bring anything else to your mind.
I took her suggestion seriously. Trying to find a further moral issue was very hard work for me because I had worked relentlessly on the first draft. Finally, a shocking new issue emerged.
I had tried hard to be a good husband. My wife and I had a weekly dates on Thursday nights. When she wanted to take a night college class I assumed the preparation for dinner and cleanup on her school night. That was easy to do because I often cooked meals. I remembered our anniversary and her birthday faithfully.I often bought her flowers and gifts. We had good conversations. I honored her publicly and so on.
It turns out that the issue was not what I did or did not do. I did many right things. The problem was my motivation. In my mind I felt she had great potential. I did all the things I did to help her reach her potential and to help her become the woman I could see she could be.
As I thought this through I realized that all the while I was trying to help her reach her potential I was I in fact failing to accept the woman she actually was all through the quarter century we were together. No wonder she was so angry at the time of our divorce There was no reason for me not to accept the woman she actually was. She was a good wife and mother. She was a very good poet. She was loyal and affectionate. She was absolutely beautiful.She was hospitable. She did a fine job working in the clinic at the mission where I worked.
Now I call potential the “P” word. The potential I tried to move her toward was in fact me trying to make up for the holes and lacks in my own personality. I was using my gifts and kindness to her in the false hope that if she became who I wanted her to be it would ease my suffering.When I saw it, I was so shocked at my self centeredness. I did love her. I loved being with her. Our camping vacation trips with our kids were and are some of the highlights of my life. I thought she was so desirable. It was because so much of my heart was consumed by memories of my excessively abusive boyhood I asked her to to meet my needs instead of asking my HP to help me heal.
My kids comfort me now reassuring me that I was a wonderful father. my family means everything to me.