The Armstrong Family Circus

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Maineville • Ohio • USA

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Small Lessons In Loss

Monday June 18th 2012

by Paul Armstrong


Happiness has become an abandoned house. Once alive, once full of warmth and activity. Over time, piece by piece, things move away from it until there are only bones and echoes. And I've done it myself, I've watched time come in and take things and done nothing. It's time to rebuild.


Observing that parenting is difficult (and thankless and tiring and frustrating and war) is like saying the ocean is salty. Everyone knows that, though unless you experience it, you don't really understand the truthfulness — the magnitude — of the statement (also, don't swallow ocean water).


A few days ago was the "celebration" of Father's; and I say "celebration" because there isn't nearly the fanfare or devotion to father's as mother's, and for good reason I suppose — but rather than let this devolve into why the perception of fatherhood is tarnished by meatstumps and the social pressures of working and providing create a cause and effect of oft-gone fathers and children's detachment in the relationship which in turn makes Father's Day only a slight step above Secretaries Day and several below Valentine's Day — which got me thinking about parenting, which made me think about my children, which made me think about my childhood, which made me wonder where all my happiness went. I feel like a mylar balloon full of helium. In the beginning full and happy and shiny and able to soar and soar into the sky, but overtime it will slowly sink and deflate. Eventually, though still a balloon, it lies on the ground lifeless, the natural progress of the slow leak of age on the fullness we once had on life. Suddenly you'll find yourself on "vacation" up at 11pm washing dishes (like at home), trying to get a kid who can't sleep settled down (like at home) and wondering how you can afford to do this (like at home) and you think "When did this become a job?"


At some point when you have kids, the things you enjoyed as a couple now become co-opted to your child — turning what was a leisurely, fun and intimate occasion into a shared event. As a parent your job doesn't stop because you're on vacation, it merely means you're parenting in a different place, and the joy, the excitement, the relaxation you had PK (pre-kids) is lost. Slowly over the years and years without any effort vacation turns into work (especially when you have no family to help, and "letting your kids do whatever they want because it's vacation" doesn't fly with us because our kids refuse to draw that distinction between "vacation parents" and "normal parents" and will demand the easy food, the dinners out, the sugar cereals at all times thereafter).


My happiness is hard to come and the fault is entirely mine — certainly not my children, and not a faceless entity like time. I haven't fought the natural progression of defeat that aging heaps upon your shoulders. Yet not finding happiness isn't the same as being unhappy — which may seem like an impossibility. I love my life; my wife, my children, all that I've been blessed with, yet the focus of my life is everything between the happiness — the details. Happiness is there, but she and I just don't spend much time together, no walking hand-in-hand on a boardwalk eating cotton candy and laughing at how much of the details (though often necessary) are nothing to end our relationship over. And I miss her. I miss taking account of the happiness right around me. It's time change; to continue to be an alert parent but not let everything be stolen, to be aware and slow down the blur of time.




Comments for "Small Lessons In Loss"

I appreciate you writing these thoughts out. You're raising awareness in me about what I might be missing.

I've always had a difficult time with happiness. It's always so quickly stolen by all this "grown-up" stuff I have to deal with. I'm not sure how to keep it close.

Thanks for sharing Paul.

Thanks for the kind words Mitch! I think my problem has been (and continues to be) that because I don't "feel" happiness that it means that I am "unhappy", which isn't true. My other feelings just mask what is essentially just there waiting for me to notice.

The plight of the man witha young family. Hits close to home. My thoughts:

When people near the end of life and remember the past, or grieve the loss of someone else, what do they think about? The large and supposedly profound events at key moments in life? Nope. They think about all the normal little things about the people they loved. They way they stirred coffee. How they brushed their hair in the morning. Their posture when they drove in the car.

When kids grow up and drift away, what do parents remember? A 4 year old struggling to tie his shoes. Kids in galoshes stomping in the gutter. The mess that is the dinner table after the hungry hordes have come and gone. A boy crying senselessly in the night with his dad next to him.

I've prayed for the ability to perceive these moments as they happen, to live wholly in the present and experience the joy present there, if not the happiness. If happiness is a measurement of my own pleasure, joy needs no relationship to self consciousness. It redefines fun and fulfillment, reframing it in a way that ends up surprising me with ....happiness.

Very well said Mr Duffy. Very well said.

I've always felt that joy is a measure and happiness is an expression. One internal, one external. I feel happiness and filled with joy. Joy composes all the elements of what I believe and comes forth in spite of any effort. A character. Happiness is an external expression and reaction. It helps show that I have joy. When I ignore my happiness or the fact that it's around, then my joy is also hidden (though there).

I think I'm rambling.

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