For When You’re Not Feeling Thankful
There’s only a few days left until Thanksgiving. And thanks to social media, people haven’t been waiting until right before the turkey is served to say what they’re grateful for. Many have been using the entire month of November to share with Facebook and Twitter what in their lives deserves thanks. This is good, and helps to give perspective for how we’re all blessed.
We feel other things. Like depressed, anxious, or in my case, embarrassingly jealous.
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m going to share something I wish I could be thankful for, but due to my own shortcomings, I’m not. This is in the hopes that my honesty can maybe help others who are feeling guilty about their own lack of gratitude, in this week of reflection.
Some of my friends know that my Dad is also a writer. They know this either because they know him, or because they’ve heard me complaining about the fact that he is also a writer. Allow me to explain.
Growing up, my Dad always talked about wanting to write a book. A series of books actually. He’s always loved sci-fi and adventure, and his love of literature trickled down to me. I started writing short stories when I was in elementary school, but like my Dad, talked about writing more than I actually wrote.
When I was 25 I decided to start pursuing writing professionally. I did it the “traditional” way – writing and submitting small pieces to online magazines, working my way into writers groups, networking, attending workshops, and slowly working on my first book. That was almost four years ago, and while I definitely have progressed as a writer, and have an online presence/platform, I still don’t have an agent, published book, or any kind of career based on my writing. It’s still mostly a hobby.
At around the same time I started working on my craft, my Dad decided to write his first book. He didn’t do it the way I did. Instead of doing any of the “base” things most writers do to try and break into the scene, and perfect their craft, he just wrote. When he finished, he self-published.
I’ve always been competitive. This was no different. It bothered me that he waited until I decided to start writing to begin his book. However, I convinced myself that if anyone was going to “make” it, it’d be me, since I was doing all the hard work.
I was wrong.
While I was focusing on being a better writer, my Dad was making connections. He’s always been good at marketing, as this has been his career for decades, and all that experience paid off. Through chance, luck, experience, whatever, he got connected to someone who knew someone in Hollywood. Yes, Hollywood. They were interested in his book. His book that at the time had sold zero copies.
I scoffed when I first heard this. There was no way my Dad, who had zero writing experience, could get noticed just like that. Especially not while I was working my butt off trying as hard as I could to make a name for myself.
Every new development that happened I convinced myself would be the last. While my sister and mother cheered on my Dad, thrilled for what this could mean for him, I rolled my eyes. They eventually stopped giving me updates. I told myself that everything was going to fall through soon, and it was just smarter not to be happy for him.
What I was ignoring was the fact that over the last year, while I was getting dealt rejection after rejection for my book, my Dad was hearing exciting updates about his.
I ignored it all. I ignored it when the producer of “The Kids Are Alright” signed onto the project, after regularly communicating with my Dad. When paperwork and contracts were signed, I still pretended nothing was actually going to happen. Even when my Dad flew out to Los Angeles to meet with the screenwriter who would be adapting his book into a script, I kept my head buried in the sand, unable to face the truth.
Then came this.
I have no idea why a simple webpage is the thing that made reality come crashing down on me, but it is. My Dad’s book has an IMDB page. This is really happening. His very first book, which has sold fewer than a hundred copies, is being turned into a movie. He got all of this without ever sending a single query, or getting even one rejection.
And I could not be less happy.
Isn’t the truth horrible? I’m not happy for my father. Not at all. I love my father. We have a great relationship. He was loving and supportive to me growing up. There is no reason for me not to be just as ecstatic for him as my Mom and sister are.
Except, to be happy for someone, you have to be able to see things from their perspective. To remove yourself from the equation. I’m able to be happy for my friends when they get pregnant or engaged, because I’m already married and I have no desire for a baby, so that has nothing to do with me – I can focus on them and their happiness. But when someone has the exact same thing you want, and you can’t get it, being happy for them takes a huge amount of selflessness.
For the past year, longer even, I have not been able to be happy for my father, because all I could see was myself. My own failure. My inability to “make it.” While he was progressing and catching breaks, I was running face first into the walls keeping me from success. My eyes were focused on where I was going, and looking over and seeing my Dad running past me on his own path only made me bitter and angry. Worse, I didn’t even see his path as his own. I saw him taking the only path available to success, leaving me alone to wallow in failure.
You know what makes being thankful easy? Humility. You know what makes being thankful hard? Pride.
All along, I’ve wanted not just to “make it.” But make it on my terms. By myself. One of my biggest fears was that if my Dad became successful before I did, any success that came to me after, people would think was due to him. I didn’t want to be Sofia Coppola or Bryce Dallas Howard. I wanted my name to be MINE. It was more about me than anything.
What was lost in all this was the whole point of why I started writing in the first place. It was never supposed to be about me at all. It was supposed to be about other people. About reaching, helping, and positively affecting the people who read my writing. I didn’t start writing to get an IMDB page or a book contract. I started writing to say what needed to be said. My Dad reaching a level of success that I may never have doesn’t negate my ability to carry out my purpose for writing. It just requires me to do it with a bigger level of humility.
I wish I could say that in the end, I’m thankful for my Dad’s success. I’m working on getting to that point, but I’m not there yet. But what I can say, is that I am thankful that his success has caused me to come face to face with my own ugliness. I know, because of all of this, I have a lot of growing to do. I also know that when it comes to the past, it’s only been when I’ve learned the lesson God’s trying to teach me, that I finally get what I’ve been working towards. And I’m not there yet.
This Thursday, before my Dad cuts into the turkey that he’s spent all day cooking, we will do what we always do and go around saying what we’re thankful for. I’m not sure what I’m going to say, but I know that there are a lot of things I have that deserve to be recognized.
Success or no success, I know that one of those things I have to be thankful for, is my father.