Maybe We Are Doing the Best We Can

The other day I was watching an episode of Monk. “Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine.” At some point after an obvious failure with considerable consequences, Sharona, his assistant, attempts to comfort him by suggesting that he is just doing the best that he can. What can I say, I’ll take insight from any and all sources.

Last week, I shared my deepest regret, failing my son. I’ve always told myself that I did not do my best. To do so feels disingenuous. It has important to me that I accept fully my responsibility without excuse, justification, or rationalization. Even though my son has forgiven me, I struggle to forgive myself. Part of that stems from an old, deeply held story of some 20+ years that I failed my son when he needed me most.

I give myself that I have amended my relationship with him today and am the parent he needs and wants me to be today. Yet, I will not allow myself to consider that maybe I did the best I could. Until today (August 27, 2019) that is. Yesterday and today, my son and his wife sent photos of him speaking at a national conference. I felt/feel so very proud of him and expressed that to him. It reminded me of countless times, when as a young child, he proudly sat in the back of a lecture hall, when I was teaching because he wanted to come and watch me do my thing. He also enjoyed the attention of undergraduates and my TA’s. He frequently has reminded me that there was good and bad in our past relationship and that without doubt, he was affected by it all.

He remembers brownouts, blackouts, not feeling safe, and wondering if I cared. And he remembers camping out indoors, bike trips, constructing elaborate castles of packing styrofoam and cardboard scavenged from recycling bins and tape, searching for bird and mammal bones on long walks along railroad tracks, and night-night stories about the remarkable adventures we created about a made-up bear. His wife reminds him of shared quirks with ‘you are your father’s son’. In recovery, I’ve seen over and over that I trudge. Few things have come easily, nor quickly in recovery for me. Healing my relationships with others, and with myself, has taken considerable time.

Kevin Griffin, in Recovering Joy: A Mindful Life After Addiction, writes of the significance of mindful reflection (contemplation, meditation, writing, talking with others) inherent in 12 steps as a practice to recover. Mindful reflection in its many forms over several years has led me to two paradoxical truths: 1) It is true that I failed my son and 2) It is true that I did not fail my son. Reflecting, writing, and sharing honestly with others, I slowly begin to see. Truths emerge that I could not find no matter how hard I tried to think. I am just becoming willing to consider that maybe, just maybe, I did the best that I could; that maybe, just maybe, my dad did the best that he could; that maybe, just maybe, we are each doing the best we can.

I

I sometimes wonder
Wonder I do
In little moments between
Did I do enough – Was I ok
Knowing I could have done better
That I should have done more
And then I notice the books
The books on his shelf
That look a lot like mine
And I smile a little smile
And I think to myself
Maybe – yes maybe I smile

II

She walks about our kitchen
Dining room and living room
With deliberate steps
Throwing her feet at the floor
Tiny pink bedazzled shoes
A slap slap slapping
Where she crawled
Just the other day
Impossibly it seems
Following dogs and cats
With tongue out determination
Laughter and happy shrieks
Stopping and staring
Distracted by what I can’t say
Beyond the patio door
Leaving precious handprints
On the glass just like he did
In his once upon a time
And I remember and smile
As I watch a boy become a man
A son become a dad
Protecting her from
Bumps bruises and cuts
As best as he can

III

Maybe just maybe
I did the best I could
All the while knowing
It would not be enough
Maybe just maybe
I did the best I could
Knowing failure was
More likely than not
Maybe just maybe
I did the best I could
And though I wanted more
I was happy with what I had
Maybe just maybe
I did the best I could
Though no one noticed
Other than me
Maybe just maybe
I did the best I could
All the while knowing
It would not be enough


About the Author

Robert B. is a sober alcoholic in Madison, WI participating in AA and AlAnon at Fitchburg Serenity Club. He has been sober since April 21, 2007. He also began writing and sharing poetry on Facebook during his first year sober as part of his recovery from alcohol dependency, acute anxiety and chronic depression. He has found that creativity expressed primarily through writing poetry and playing various stringed instruments helped him heal and thrive. 

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