We all have those voices in our heads. Depending on who we are, those voices can be good or they can be bad. Sometimes they push us to succeed while other times they tear us down at the knees. As I’ve grown older, those voices have started to sound like people who have come in and out of my life through the years.
That might be because many of the people who have those voices have told me things about myself that I have striven to prove wrong. While it would be easy to write them off as “haters”, the sad fact is that haters can come disguised as loved ones. It’s often those whose opinions are supposed to matter who can make you question yourself the most.
Think about it. I’ve been called, for the purposes of a family friendly blog, a “jerk” by random strangers in life. Most notably, I almost got into an actual fight last year over garbage pickup at my old house with an unknown neighbor who considered himself the garbage police. He called me disgusting. I told him to get into his car and drive away before something bad happened. He did. That was a fun day.
The thing about that day, though, was that it didn’t haunt me for years. It was something I think back on time and again. I joke about the story at dinner parties and recalled how my final moments in the home I first brought my kids home to was spent nearly fighting an old man. Aside from that day, it caused me almost no grief at all.
Yet, less pointed words from others decades earlier have cut me much deeper. Those who we tell ourselves know us best are the ones who can hurt us far worse by saying far less.
“Don’t ever have kids. You’re too selfish to ever have kids.”
That one haunted me. It’s awful, right? Wherever it came from and whoever said it doesn’t matter. I know that now. What matters is that it was said and, in many cases, once it’s out in the universe, it’s hard to put back.
The ironic part is that it’s far tamer than most other things that were said to me through the years, even by that person. Yet, it stung deeper because it hit me on my most sensitive level. Because of that, it helped shape the father I eventually became. I hear it sometimes when I get called upon to abandon my own hopes and needs in favor of my children. I am haunted by that ghost of days gone by and try, each day, to prove to myself that I’m not whatever they said I was.
There’s a famous poem that urges us to listen to the Mustn’ts. We’re supposed to absorb all the negativity and then bounce back with a newfound love of ourselves. In the end, according to Shel Silverstein, we learn that “anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
That’s true, but the poem leaves out that we need to make those anythings happen on our own. Those words may fuel our fire to prove them wrong. If less unchecked, however, the fire that those words create can burn us down to the ground in a hateful self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve seen it happen to others. I won’t let it happen to me.
To this day, the person and people who made me feel that way still live in my head. No matter how far away I get from them physically, mentally it will always be a part of me. Had I not realized years ago that I was better than those words, I might have allowed them to be true. It took that sobering moment of sanity to see that it wasn’t true. I had to believe in myself when others didn’t and told me I shouldn’t either.
Today, I am a good dad. In fact, I’m a great dad. That’s not bragging or self-congratulating. That’s a fact and one that I’m proud of. My daughter will never have to add “in his own way” after saying I love her. My son will never go without something because I needed it first. I won’t make them thank me for providing them with a meal better than mine. I won’t guilt them on Christmas morning for all the presents I didn’t receive in my own life. I won’t do anything other than love them and raise them to be the best people they can be.
One day, I will be voice in their heads. Long after I’m gone, Olivia will hear me offering advice and narrating her decisions. I know that and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly. When that day comes, I want my voice to be one of compassion, understanding, and love. I want her to be the best person she can be because of me, not despite me.
Haters don’t define you, but that’s only half the truth. The whole truth is that no other person defines you. You define you. You make yourself the person you are. The voices in your head can influence you, steer you, and try to mold you into what direction they want you to take. Ultimately, though, the destination you reach is yours alone.
Find where you belong. Become the person you are meant to be. Once you do, buckle up and drive yourself home. In the end, your voice is the only one that really matters.