Wednesday, 22 January 2014

I Don't Know What To Do With A Compliment

Last night, while at my weekly Trivia event, one of the fellows who comes regularly and with whom I have spoken a few times told me he thought I was a great writer. I felt uncomfortable at hearing this, uncomfortable at being complimented. I pushed the compliment aside and moved on with what I was doing. I regret that; that I would not only dismiss a genuine compliment but that I would dismiss it so fully as to not even properly thank the person who proffered it.

I don't understand why compliments make me uncomfortable, why I feel unworthy of recognition in this way. Certainly I don't mind recognition for my accomplishments, yet somehow I feel that my writing is not really something worthy of that same recognition, as if it was not so much an accomplishment but a fallacy, that I really am not doing much by doing this.

In some ways I feel very certain about what I can do and how skilled I am. There are things where my confidence level is not only high but most likely out of proportion too. I am comfortable walking into any room full of people, knowing that I will easily make my presence felt, easily mix and mingle, easily associate and do well. Of course there are times when this proves untrue, yet I feel I can do it well. There is very little I fear when it comes to land and sea, very few places in the woods or on board ship where I will not go.

Yet should those things be noticed, should someone compliment me on them, I am placed at unease, unwilling to take what in many cases is such a freely offered gift. When I look inward at this, I wonder how much of it arises from my childhood. My Dad was not good at recognizing achievement. When I would do well in school, he would be quick to point out those who had done better. When I would work hard or showed some physical strength, he was quick to say "You'll be a man before your mother yet." When I figured out something particularly difficult in my work or in my career, something I was proud of, he would respond by saying "If you're so smart, how come you're not a millionaire?"

My father would play the comparison game, pitting one sibling against another. Even as adults he would do this, spending his time with me by telling me how great my brother Adam was doing, how successful his career was, how much money he made, where he had been lately. He talked about Matthew and his radio stations, Peter and his international travel, Jim and all the houses he owned. Yet he regularly dismissed me and my accomplishments. As he aged, my Dad skipped a generation, focusing his lauds on my daughter Kate, creating a virtual shrine of pictures of her in his living room, as if his other grandchildren, mine and others, didn't even exist.

I really can't blame my Dad for this. I am a grown man with failings of my own. I suspect my own son will remember the slights which I have directed towards him, the judgments of him which I have made unfairly. I am old enough to know better; I regret these things. I can still recall my Dad telling me of his own father and the lack of recognition in his life. My Dad would tell the story of his Dad like this; "When I got 99% on a test, my Dad would ask why I didn't get 100%. When I got 100%, my Dad would say 'Must have been an easy test.'"

Tragedy surpasses generations. The sins of the father truly are visited upon the son. I hope my son learns this lesson earlier than I, and can escape this cycle. I hope he can, with humility and gratitude, accept a compliment. I wish I could.

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