My Dad has always referred to himself as ‘pop’. As a child I was distinctly uncomfortable with that. I knew his growing up on the East Coast made it more logical, but it still annoyed me. It wasn’t dignified. I wanted him to be father, dad, or even daddy for that matter. At least daddy was a word that little girls were supposed to use. Pop, on the other hand, felt more like a term for drinking buddies. Thus, I was more than a little surprised to hear myself end a message to him last night with, “Love ya pop, talk to you soon.”
I don’t know how long I’ve been using his word for himself, but thinking about it today I realize the word doesn’t hold the same lip-curdling, teenage self-righteousness that it used to. In fact, it is more accurate than father or dad or daddy could ever be. Pop implies loveable frailty, a generous heart, a tendency towards garrulous storytelling, and a slightly saucy, yet ultimately corny, sense of humor. “Honey, did you hear about the man who was found dead in a bathtub full of milk and Cheerios with a banana stuck up his butt? The police said it was a cereal killer!!” Five minutes of laughter on his part, and yes, the first time he told it to me I actually thought he was relaying odd but true news from Southern California.
As I thought about the pop-ness of my Pop, a question came unbidden: “I wonder what else wants to call its own name that I’m not believing?” Ooooo….juicy question, thanks brain. How many times have I wondered ‘what else is going on’ with a friend who was sharing the trivial or traumatic? How many times have I downplayed a need of my own because ‘I can make it through just a few more days or hours?’ Heck, how many times did I ask students ‘do you really have to go or are you just trying to get out of doing work?’ What if I took the motivation, the story, the need presented, as the truth of the moment, trusting that any other truth that would come later was working its way up from the roots of the situation?
It is not unprecedented. I had a student come out to me for the first time ever this year. The last day of school she handed me a note that popped my tear ducts like water balloons. The first lines read: “Dear Miss Delaney, you are the first adult I ever came out to. Thanks for making it easier by believing me.” I would never question a heart offering of such a fragile nature, but in her mind she did not yet have the right to call her own name. She was, as we often do, testing out how much permission she had, in the hands of one she hoped would love her.
I’ve even spoken to myself without inquisition quite recently. Laying in bed a week or so ago, unsuccessfully trying to ignore mounting anxiety over upcoming dental work, I finally gave in to the skin stretching flaying reality of panic attacks and started to question. “You know you’re not going to die. You know you essentially bring this on yourself by not going in more often. You trust your dentist and she has been immeasurably kind to you for many years. Why are you still so afraid?” No answer. I got out of bed, stood in the dark of my apartment, and started to move whatever parts of my body were calling. Finally, like the whisper from the side of a scared child’s mouth, “Pain means you are not loved.” I didn’t stop to gawk at the new creation. I kept moving, I felt what emotion it stirred, but what I didn’t do was question it or try to construct a story of how it came to be so. In fact, the few times I wondered if I should sit down and write about it, I knew that it was a not yet. The truth of the moment was here, telling me all I needed to know for now.
As a writer, my taste for questions makes this a very different way to approach life. I will never give up asking questions, nor do I believe I am being called to. Questions help things be birthed. But what would it be like if I let something be that has just been born? When I talk to my Pop tonight, I will thank him for seeding that lesson, whether consciously or not, from my earliest days. I do not get to tell someone what their name is.