As promised, in celebration of my dad's birthday this Merry Month of May, this week's blog continues my exploration of my dad's ongoing influence on my Daily Practice of JOY.
Why does a 56-year-old woman keep writing and talking about her famous father -- a man who has been gone for almost a quarter century?
Is it because he was famous and in this celebrity culture, she wants to be tethered however tenuously to fame -- however she can find it?
Or is it because he left when she was eleven -- divorcing her mother for a difficult but brilliant woman who liked playing the part of the Wicked Stepmother -- and she is still trying to get him back?
Or is it because it is simply easier to attach herself to a bright star thus keeping her own doubts and fears in the shadows by billing herself as a Daddy's Girl?
Over the years, my friends and frenemies have thrown out all of those ideas and more when wondering why I continue to spend so much time writing and talking about my father when I have so many other interests or talents or goals? These are their words, their questions. But they have troubled me.
Yesterday on my drive across Iowa and Nebraska, I finished listening to Circe a new audiobook novel by Madeline MIller. It's a wonderful read -- the life story of a goddess and her struggles to find her own power and identity as a woman in the Greek pantheon of gods.
As I listened to the book over these past few weeks and thousands of miles that I've driven on my Back Roads Book Tour, I came to realize how much I was identifying with Circe -- her questioning, her isolation and loneliness, her need for connection and yet her wariness of it, the slow unfoldment of her journey of knowing, the learning of love, the pain of loss, and her gradual understanding of her truest self.
At the end of the book, three characters are faced with huge choices -- and each of them ultimately makes a decision that allows them to become their truest self. They can make these choices, because they are not gods but rather of human beings seeking to live as their hearts dictate. Circe has never had that freedom, because she is immortal. That has been her whole life struggle -- to find her place in a world in which she never felt she belonged.
That's how I always felt about fame, I realized. It was the world of minor gods into which I was born. The world to which so many people in this celebrity culture aspire. That world has opened its doors to me over and over again. It is a familiar world to me -- therefore I, too, have been lured by its bright lights and promises. But it is a world that I knew, even as a child, would rob me of my ability to know who I really was. . .
So imagine my surprise last night after finishing the book, when I suddenly realized just how the fame into which I was born had contributed deeply and profoundly to my joy practice.
My famous father may have been my source of joy, but my talented and imperious mother was my moral compass -- for better and for worse. My mother had a deep spiritual well from which she drew. That same spiritual well has been my lifeline for as long as I can remember. But her daily actions were often guided far more my fear than by love.
As a child, it was my mother who taught me "right" from "wrong" by putting the literal fear of God into me, and being the gatekeeper to what was good and permissible and what was not. As a child, though I bridled agains her will, it was often just easier to do it her way . . . for both my father and for me.
I was a child of immense enthusiasms. The ones she approved were usually the ones that most resembled her own. The ones she did not -- the messy ones, the inexplicable ones, the ones that smacked too much of privilege -- those became our battlegrounds. But my greatest enthusiasm -- my love for my father -- was the one enthusiasm we both fully shared.
My father was the love of her life. All she wanted was the best for him -- even if sometimes her idea of best differed from his own. She saw herself as being in the Vincent Price Business -- and I, as her daughter was, by proxy, her chief aide in that same business. And the currency of the Vincent Price Business was fame. It was our task to make sure my father's fame remained untouched by scandal, that he remained above reproach, and that we, as his family, did everything we could to be the best representatives of that fame and his life (and now legacy) that we could possibly be.
What I realized last night was that, for a child who wanted to love deeply and hugelyand be big and joy-filled and try it all, the ONE PLACE where I was fully permitted to be and do all that was with and toward and about my father.
THAT is why -- seven years ago when I vowed to change my life -- I looked to the love I had for my dad to show me how.
The reason I continue to live forward my dad's legacy is because it was the one place where the full range and scope of my love and joy was always permitted. When I speak or write about my dad, it is like a life-saving drug is injected into my veins. I FREELY feel the joy and love and hope and connection I want to feel in so many other areas of my life. And then, because of his fame and the connection so many other people still have to my long-gone father, I get to share it.
You see, that childhood permission to feel love and joy and connect with others through that love and joy is all I have been looking for my whole life. With and through my father's legacy, I get to do that so freely and easily, because it has always been allowed.
I'm just still learning how to give myself the permission to override my mother's reticence, her habit of doubting others' good intentions, her proclivity toward isolation, her natural coolness, her judgment of anything that smacked of too much that have lived on in me in all the other areas of my life. All of those constricting qualities have surfaced in my own life as though they were encoded in my operating system. It was reconnecting with my father's joy and then starting my own daily practice that taught me they were not.
We are all born fluent in joy. When we learn to speak the languages of fear instead of being guided by the Love that comes so naturally to us all as infants, we forget who we really are.
I still look to my father to guide my joy, just as I still look to the sun to see which way is West. I may have a compass on my car mirror and GPS on my phone, but I will always look to the sun to get my bearings.
On this Back Roads Book Tour, I have gotten to share many more of my own ideas about life and love and being lost. I talk less about my father and more about what I have been learning. But I continue to come back to my father to refill my well of joy, because we all need a place where we can draw from the source freely and drink deeply.
In the end, the joy and fame connection are not the problem or the handicap or the infirmity so many people have feared for me. They are simply a fact of my life. Just as Circe spent a hundred lifetimes coming to know who she was born to be as her truest self despite her origins, each of us spends our lives doing the same -- through practice and connection and falling down and getting up and going back to well and leaving it and over and over again -- we learn, we live, we love. It is never too late to become who we always were, and so begin to live the lives we have always known were ours to live.
This is the daily practice of life.
TO READ MORE ON THIS TOPIC, PLEASE CHECK OUT THIS ARTICLE I WROTE ON MEDIUM: Why Is It So Hard For Us To Live The Lives We Have Always Wanted To Live?