They met this weekend, after more than a year: the two men that occupy the majority of my free time. The elder, my gym mentor, gets the weekdays. The younger, my boyfriend, gets the weekends. Hundreds of Hampton afternoons find Chuck on the elliptical to my right, peddling wisdom, perspective, and probing questions. When Charming began filling my weekends, Chuck managed to be by my side and on Charming’s side simultaneously.
See, I’m a pretty typical Italian woman. I value family, friends, fellowship, food, and faith. I speak my mind and wear my heart on my sleeve. As a teen, I found I could convince my mom easily if I needed permission to attend an event. My father, on the other hand, remains unmoved by my emotionally charged appeals to this day. We share the same world, but my dad and I see and experience different planets. Probably a lot like Charming and I do.
Is it age? Gender? Nature? Nurture? My father and Charming seem, at times, to be generational mirrors. If I cried to get my way as a young girl, Dad would say, “Go away and come back when you’re done.” And though Charming hasn’t said the words, he’s given me the equivalent, loaded look during a heated exchange. Growing up in my father’s household, I resented him for not understanding me. In my adult life, I’ve come to find he understands me better than anyone, maybe even my mom. He just didn’t know how to express that in words.
There is an incredible depth in the comfort of a strong relationship with a good father. Though he’s a phone call away when I need guidance (and my ringtone on his phone used to be a frantic cry for help), his counsel over three decades has equipped me to tackle most challenges. I’m resourceful, and though I make a great damsel in distress, those moments should really be added to my acting repertoire. His wisdom is the product of innate gifts, age, experience, and faith.
These qualities in my father that have most influenced me drew me to Chuck. What started as cursory conversations between two gym rats sharing the same workout time and equipment became a friendship. And when I had the greatest need for a face-to-face mentor, he became that, too. In thousands of minutes sweating our way toward physical fitness, Chuck doubled the value by tending to my mental health.
Where I hit the real jackpot with Chuck is that while he shares all my father’s best attributes, he has a unique one. My father is the strong, silent type. When he speaks, it matters, and I listen, but like Charming, Dad doesn’t talk about feelings easily. Chuck is like the perfect bridge from my men’s world to mine. He’s connected to emotions. His wisdom, experience, and faith are tools that he uses to tone my mind like the equipment does my calves. At times, I even begin to feel like we’re on the same planet.
Chuck doesn’t just empathize with me. He levels with me. He asks questions to understand before he shares an anecdote or YouTube video that broadens my perspective on an issue. On weekdays together, we process my weekends with Charming. At each varied junction in our developing romance, Chuck was the reason and the logic, and his gift for expressing emotions allowed him to package it in a way that I readily received.
I enjoy our deep, easy dialogue. Chuck is the perfect mentor for me. He’s just the right combination of the important core values that I need influencing me in my daily routine. We’re always on the same page, even if it takes forty-five minutes to wind up there. It was never that easy with my dad growing up. It’s not that easy with Charming either.
And I’m not saying that it should be. In fact, I think my father was teaching me a valuable lesson each time he sent me away to gather my emotions before having an intelligent conversation with him… he just didn’t know how to communicate what he was doing. It was a lesson I didn’t really learn until well into adulthood, a decade away from that canopy bed I was so often grounded to. Now, it’s a lesson that I teach my students, and my job as a teacher is to make sure they “get it”.
Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle consists of three appeals. He believed we convince people that we are right by appealing to emotions, establishing credibility, and reasoning out our argument logically. From birth, I wielded the emotional appeal with authority. I still do. I know how to play with the heart strings. I picked up the guilt trick from my mom. And those will work on some people.
But not my dad. Not Charming. And according to Aristotle, the strongest arguments will utilize all three appeals, but the foundation will be logical reasoning: facts, examples, statistics. Looking back at the past year developing relationships with both Chuck and Charming, I see that I’ve rounded out a bit. I haven’t lost my Italian passion by any means, but in my weekday conversations shared with an inspiring man of integrity and emotions, I’ve come to better understand my father and my boyfriend the rest of the time.
I’ve never resented Charming for not understanding me. My perspective has changed since adolescence. Then, I believed the world revolved around me. Now, I know I’m a tiny speck on the globe. I didn’t have the capacity to imagine a functional communication two-way street; my dad and I were two highways separated by a median, and I fully expected him to find a way to cross over.
It would have never occurred to me to try and understand where Dad was coming from. He may not have discussed his feelings, but he’s human. He has them. Empathy is my curse and my blessing. Had I enough wisdom in my youth, I might have taken some right turns toward open dialogues with my father. In our gym sessions, that’s what Chuck targets. His stories and advice help me understand my world and the men in it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact we were both pedaling the same direction.
So this weekend at Dunkin’ Donuts, when Charming and Chuck shook hands, I was glowing. In an hour over a cup of coffee, I mostly listened as two of my favorite men got to add facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language to their growing impressions of my constant chatter about each to the other. Perhaps the meeting reassured Charming that I’m in good hands when it comes to advice about him.
After coffee, Chuck sent us off for an adventure in Norfolk. As usual, he made a restaurant and activity suggestion. All afternoon, during lunch at Freemason Abbey and after as we enjoyed the seventy degree November day walking by a lake, I was grateful for Chuck. To be honest, I’m not sure if Charming and I would have made it to Norfolk after fourteen months of weekends had Chuck not been at my side helping me understand Charming’s side in the weeks in between.
This is the season where we voice our gratitude. In a couple of days, we’ll gather with friends or family or both and give thanks. We might look around our table and see the changes in the faces. Some are absent due to death, marriage, divorce, illness, or proximity. We’re grateful for each, in some way. Maybe we’ll see the new faces like I did last year, sharing Thanksgiving dinner with Charming’s family, and wonder what gratitude will come with our new beginning.
A year ago this week, Charming’s grandmother told me to stick around. I’m thankful to God that I get to share another Thanksgiving with her. I’m thankful to Charming for abiding my aging fears and shifting emotions. I’m grateful to my dad for teaching me the most important attributes in a man of God, and that understanding is a two-way street.
And I’m thankful to Chuck for mentoring me through the last year of growth that led me to cross a bridge to the other side of the water a few days ago, looking ahead to the coming days with Charming and his family with a genuine hope and expectancy from a posture of gratitude.
Some of us will say a prayer before our meal on Thursday, thanking God for His blessings. And some of us will notice the missing and new faces and see the blessings in both the pain of the losses and the joy of the additions. We’ll pause to honor the people and events that brought us to that table, in that room.