You Will Always Be Enough — Seeking Gratitude in Our Most Important Relationships

Departure is in less than a week, and it feels like I’ve spend the majority of the last two weeks scheduling last-minute catch-up opportunities to check in on close relationships. This isn’t new though, it’s what I’ve always done before leaving home for an extended period of time. When you’re an extrovert who feels fulfillment from strong connections, it almost feels like an obligation to see your close friends one more time before so you can validate that you’re in good standing and reiterate that you care about their happiness. Between going away to school and travelling, this set of motions has already repeated itself several times now, and with repetition comes some key moments of reflection to thank those who the goodbyes feel natural with. These come from the most consistent of relationships, and one of the people on this list is my dad.

Consistency in a nutshell

Have you ever taken time to think of how you would describe someone you love beyond just their character traits? Even further, have you ever thought of whether you’re actually answering the question: “Tell me about him/her, what are they like?” by using character traits? If you really care about a person, don’t you think you owe them a bit more of an illustration? How do you think they would feel if they sat in front of you and listened to your description? I find a great way to do this is by using a person’s favourite books, movies, music, or other art forms, because our reactions to various mediums we feel strong connections to are based on willingness to replicate them (or at least that’s what you would hope).

I had a very important realization about my relationship with my dad this week through one of his favourite movies, as it was cited in a book I’m reading called “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” by Terrence Real. I could go on for pages about what I’ve learned from this book, but I have a few more ideas to write about surrounding the themes in it, so will spare you a longer summary for now. Regardless, the title should give you a good idea; its an extremely ahead of its time take on male mental health and the systemic raising of young boys to internalize emotions. All of the anti “Be a Man” and “Masks of Manliness” propaganda you see today take from the ideas this book.

The movie cited though, Searching for Bobby Fischer, tells the story of seven-year-old chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin. Although Josh has exceptional talent, the movie focuses more on paternal and maternal relationships than on the actual play of Josh. More simply, if you were to watch the movie, you likely won’t be able to thoroughly understand the way chess works, but you’ll have a clear picture of what toxic paternal pressure can do to young boys.

Looking at the pressure the other chess fathers put on their kids, Josh fears that his dad has become like the rest, and the only way to receive love from him is to win tournaments. You get a clear sense throughout that Josh is truly empathetic beyond his years, but the only one who understands it is his mother. While both Josh’s chess teacher and father try to ingrain in him the will to win and how one should feel hatred toward their opponent, Josh sees competition differently. Although he enjoys chess, Josh doesn’t want his success in the game to dictate how his life plays out. He, unlike countless others his age, does not view victory as a way to inflict pain on his opponent.

After throwing a match to see how his father will react to him losing, Josh’s passion begins to fade. His chess teacher ridicules him, and the only one who “refuses to buckle under the paternal patriarchy” is his mother. She pleads to call Josh’s father back to his senses in “seeing his childhood as a childhood and not just a chess players training camp”, even threatening to leave him if he doesn’t comply.

The film climaxes with Josh playing a robot-like opponent in the national championship, whom he has several run-ins with prior to the match, and can tell despises him. When Josh realizes he has him beat, he offers a draw so they can share the trophy, to which his opponent swiftly declines and loses. Josh’s act of kindness in that moment is the truest reflection of his empathy, as he understands the pressure that has been put on his opponent and wants to prevent the same downward spiral that happened to him.

Josh Offering a Draw

Although there is no overt act of oppression in the story, if Josh’s mother didn’t stand up to put an end to the tyranny, her son would have crumbled as so many others do. The key difference is that many boys throw much more than a chess match.

Reading over this again made me gain a deeper understanding of the ways that my brother and I were raised with respect to how much pressure our dad put on us, which you may be surprised to hear was very low. In my case there didn’t need to be added pressure, since my dad realized I was already hard enough on myself. My brother on the other hand had a demeanor much more like Josh’s, which has saved him from a lot of stress over the years.

When you take time to sit with the negative implications of something that you’ve always seen as a strength, you start to realize a lot of things. I’ve struggled with being too competitive my whole life and have learned over the past couple years of sitting with this struggle that it’s led to a lot of unreasonable stress. There is in fact such a thing as healthy competitive drive, and for many years I didn’t believe that existed. I hated anyone who I saw as a threat and needed to humiliate opponents to feel satisfied. More times than not, I wished I could have been tougher and sometimes blamed it on my dad for not pushing me harder. It was only when I began to see the consequences of this mindset on myself and my relationships that I truly examined the pressure I put on myself.

In other words, would you ever treat the ones you love the way you treat yourself? How could I ever dare to replicate that pressure on someone I love?

Since a lot more of my attention over the past two years has been directed to the problems that arise from a hyper-competitive attitude, Josh’s example led me to wonder how my situation would be different if the paternal pressure put on me were similar to that of many of Josh’s opponents. Would knowing I wasn’t enough for him back then make me feel unworthy of being enough for other people now? Maybe I would have quit all sports and spiraled downwards even further than Josh.

From this realization came a whole new sense of gratitude towards the way my dad raised me. Although my dad wasn’t as hard on me as a lot of fathers, he never took me away from the empathetic side of being a human– even if I didn’t perform well, I was always enough for him and knew it. Instead of inflicting the psychological blows that put down so many young boys when they are most vulnerable, he helped me to work through how to meet the expectations of my biggest critic, myself.

Going back to the book, the question that comes out of it all is this: how do we raise boys to be humans instead of just “men”? Josh’s story leaves us with an important message to address this concern; he was never afraid of losing a chess match, he was just afraid of loving his father’s love. Some may say that Josh didn’t have enough competitive drive or “isn’t tough enough”, but the truth of the matter is that he understands not only just how to be a boy but a human as well. The lesson we can all learn from Josh is not how to be a chess Grandmaster, but the implications the actions of a parent have on their children. When Josh finally knew that he would feel loved regardless of the outcome, he played his best chess.

Remember this: you are enough, and you will always be enough. Whether you’re a child with a gift for chess, or an adult who wants to move 12000km away, you deserve to feel this way.