I’m currently 7.5 years into fatherhood. To me, some of the most fascinating moments that accompany this role are when children reach an age that we have memories from. Rylin, our first-born, is currently in 2nd grade with the most influential teacher I had as a youngster. Everyday, when I pick Rylin up after school, I’m blessed to relive some of Mrs. Bay’s personality quirks that made me love her so much.
What are the earliest memories you can recall? Birthday parties, favorite toys, time with family members I can never replace are a few of the stand out moments from my early days. However, it seems my mind keeps a “save for later” folder when it comes to memories. I sometimes experience things that I don’t quite understand at the exact moment they unfold. Then, when I’m least expecting it, and usually after I learn something new, I remember certain things from years past.
Tomorrow, I will be speaking to a group of people about my key take-aways from a two-year leadership program that I recently graduated from. The group I’m speaking to is halfway through this program and will be expected to prepare a similar speech at the completion of their journey. My key take-away from the program was self-awareness. I learned a lot about myself throughout this program. My company provided numerous assessments such as DiSC, Myers Briggs, Emotional Intelligence, and offered the opportunity to volunteer for tasks I would’ve normally been too introverted to try.
Much like the dried gum under desks, left behind by kids from years past, a moment from 2nd grade has stuck with me for years. Until recently, I never understood what happened while I was sitting at my lunch table eating my PB&J and sour cream and onion potato chips. The feeling of being so small, in such a large room, with so many kids disappeared. I heard and focused all of my 7-year-old focus on one 15 second event.
I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember exactly what grade he was in. I remember he wore glasses and an oversized, blue stocking cap. I remember he was handicapped. I remember how I felt the day he was made fun of by a table full of the “popular” boys. I felt everything he should’ve felt but couldn’t. I was embarrassed, hurt, and angry for him. I felt it as if I were walking in his shoes. I felt a lump in my throat and couldn’t understand why I was fighting back tears.
I’ve come to learn, later in life, sifting through the sum result of all these assessments that my ability to experience empathy scores very high. I’ve also been typed as an INFJ in the Myers Briggs personality world. As dramatic as this may sound, learning the order of these four letters has changed my life. I now understand the why behind how I operate. While reflecting, key moments in my life make sense now.
I couldn’t understand how this kid kept making his way to his table, seemingly unfazed by being bullied while there I was, sitting across from my best friend choking back tears. I couldn’t understand why people wanted to hurt others. Later in life, knowing what I do now about myself, I feel this was my first experience feeling empathy. I was 7 years old and I can see it clear as if it happened 5 minutes ago.
My “save for later” folder is dwindling down now that I’m revisiting these moments armed with this personal information. I can’t help but wonder what my kids will experience in the years to come. I’m afraid technology, and more specifically, social media is fighting our natural ability to feel empathy. We hear the term “keyboard warrior” thrown around quite a bit nowadays; I hope our highlight-reel personona in the cyber world doesn’t pull us away from reality, making it impossible for our children to feel for others as they grow.