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Over the last 4 weeks, I have tried to engage in “dialogue” with 5-year-old-Dan on a regular basis. I am operating under the premise that when I get anxious, angry, afraid or feel the urge to over-eat that 5YOD is trying to speak. He is trying to get “my” attention.

If I’m paying attention, this happens several dozen times a day.

I turn and look down to see 5YOD standing to my left, holding his blanket ( I was a “blankie-thumb-sucker” just like Linus until I was much older than 5) and I see him looking up at me. It’s clear that he has needs. Needs he is looking to me to meet. But he doesn’t speak.

My impulse has been three-fold. For the first two weeks (less often now) I would be annoyed and ashamed. Very much like I feel my father, brothers and grandfather felt about 5YOD. It was a long day filled with tears when I realized I was doing to myself, all over again, what had been done before. I am still trying to regain 5YOD’s trust.

My second impulse has been to sweep him up in my arms and hold him tightly. He’s not all-together comfortable with this, but it does meet a need and he seems to appreciate it. But it’s not ultimately what he’s after. This gesture is…”temporary”.

The third impulse is to simply “see” him. To adopt an open, inquisitive and…participatory posture with him. I now address him when he shows up, “Hey, little Buddy!” and I get on my knees to address him face to face. I want him to have my full attention, not in an effort to satiate him, quiet him, protect him or appease him, but to SEE him.

*as I wrote that last paragraph, I had to pause for a brief conversation with him*

Like any 5 year old, he sometimes just likes having me in that position, ready. It’s enough for him. Other times, he is trying to get me to engage with him, to see something, to participate.

About 10 days ago, while paused in this tableau of kneeling before a silent 5YOD, with his blankie firmly gripped in his right hand, and the thumb of his left hand firmly in his mouth, he extended the forefinger of his left hand right in front of his nose, a gesture indicating that I should I look up. As I did, his eyes moved upward along with mine as if to confirm that I was in fact looking.

In a flat plane, about three feet above our heads was a landscape of utter chaos: turbulent, violent and unpredictable. It did not reach us, as if it was behind glass, but I could feel the impact and rumble of the frayed and ragged parts collided, swirled togther and tore apart again.

This was 5YOD’s world. Just three feet away, constant turmoil. Chaos. And below it. Just him.

Wading In

5 year old self

Time to wade into the murky, Jungian / Freudian waters of self-analysis again.


The first sensation as my feet touched the water was shame; embarrassment that I don’t have all this worked out by now. I’m a 55-year-old man who has access to the Throne of God through the redeeming work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit…but I’ve still got work to do with my 5 year old self.

This ego-business is the first hurdle to overcome. I’m put-off by the fact that I’m put-off by doing this work. I thought I had at least my “basic” shit together, and I thought that included not being proud of having my “basic” shit together. Not true. One of the things that has been holding me back from continued growth these last couple of years is my un-willingness to expose the basic brokenness I must still face. I want to be a Jedi Master, and when people around me begin to treat me like one, it’s an assault on my ego to be seen back in Light Saber 101 Class.

2 weeks ago when my Spiritual Director first opened up the idea of dialogue with 5 year old Dan, I resisted (internally) because I didn’t want to move in what felt like a backwards direction. I was able to admit this to him, which is good, but the struggle is not over. Even this moment, as I type the title I have chosen for him (Spiritual Director) I recognize that I am (and have been) avoiding calling him my counselor. Counselors are for the needy. That’s not supposed to be me.

But let’s not get too bogged down in the ankle-deep water. As I move in up to my knees and start considering childhood wounds and their impact on adult-Dan, I encounter the critical voice that points out that my childhood was actually pretty good; compared to a lot of people I know and love it was ideal. My wounds should not be counted among those wounds. The temptation to back up into the ankle-deep water is strong…

…because, while I never went hungry, was never beaten, abandoned or denied much of anything at Christmas or birthdays, there were “issues”. I was sexually abused at around age 5. While I was rarely a participant, there was nearly constant conflict in the home (sometimes physical) that occurred at an altitude right above my head. Alcoholism, drug abuse and a cyclical climate of chaos.

I have provisionally summarized the state of 5-year old Dan’s life this way: I was loved, but I was not seen. The grown-ups and older kids existed in this other plane of drama and complexity that I was not allowed into, either because they were protecting me from it or they just didn’t want me underfoot. After all – I was really just a late addition to a cast that had already been acting out this family tragedy for decades by the time I arrived. The end result was a gilded cage. I was isolated. To illuminate my provisional summary:

When I was seen, it was in the role of “baby” of the family. That’s what I was brought into the world to be. I don’t think I was viewed as an actual PERSON for the first 11 years or so. My identity was not self-contained. It was entirely referential, based on my role in someone else’s movie.

It’s not that I wasn’t valued. By no means. In fact, I may have been over-valued by my mother, at least. But I was not valued for who I was, only for my role.  I recall having to fight to breathe, to be allowed to move and stretch and BE. I think my mother was suffocating me.

When I did manage to get out from under that from time to time, I discovered a father, brothers and a grandfather who just didn’t really want, or know how to deal with a little boy, so a certain amount of neglect and occasional hostility was what awaited me.

I was a show dog. I was well fed, groomed and cared for. Legitimately valued and yes, loved. But my value lay in what I could provide for my owners, and if out of the kennel behaving like a regular dog, I was often an annoyance. I was prevented from doing things that would threaten my “showbility” so there was not a lot of chances to explore what being a real dog was like.

I’m not sure anyone really wanted a dog and everything that comes with one. They just wanted the IDEA of a dog…a caricature. A cartoon. A portrait of a dog.