Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Things You Lose part 4

The Things You Lose
Part 4

Today’s topic: Identity

iden?ti?ty ? ? ( -d n t -t ) KEY ?

pl. i?den?ti?ties
1. The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known: "If the broadcast group is the financial guts of the company, the news division is its public identity" (Bill Powell).
2. The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
3. The quality or condition of being the same as something else.
4. The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity;
5. individuality.
6. Mathematics
a. An equation that is satisfied by any number that replaces the letter for which the equation is defined.
b. Identity element.

Today’s topic is Identity. Not everyone will see himself in this topic, at least not right away. Because our society is so adamant about defining a man by his career or his bank account or his car, or his boat, or his house, or his alma mater, we don’t usually place any emphasis on what really identifies a man.
I will give you my personal definition and use it as a mooring for today’s topic.
To me, Identity is who I am, and how I am known, to those I love the most.
Let’s start out side and swoop in…
First, if I am going to use this as a definition, I should define who I love the most.
Who really matters most to me? Well as a Christian I should start the list off with God. In reality, He is on top of my list but I struggle daily to keep Him there. (Or to allow Him to remain there would be more appropriate) Next would be my daughter, of course. No conversation about love ever happens in my world without her name being mentioned.
After Morgan would be my family. My brothers and my sisters, Bob and Cathy and Pop and Jewell and their families. My cousins and my uncles and aunts.
Then of course are my friends here in Nashville and back home. And the ones scattered around the country.
Then there is my church family. My small group, and the guys in our men’s ministry.
This is my circle of friends and these are the people I love and care about. These are the only people whose opinion of me matters in the end.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to narrow it down to a few of these.
In our society today men, more so than women, fall victim to allowing themselves to be defined by their careers or their possessions, (an offshoot of their careers) or some other tangible thing. I’ve seen enough examples of this in my life. I used to belong to a local fitness center here in Franklin, TN where I live. I remember two guys in particular who worked in the mortgage industry as I do. I believe they owned their company and I once heard them discussing a $90,000 loan for a customer in between sets on a bench press at 5:30 AM. I laughed to myself. I figured they were in the business about 3-5 years at the time, because most guys in this business lose the “newbie” attitude after that period. A few days later I happened to be walking out of the club at the same time they were and I saw that they both drove Tahoe SUV’s and one license plate said “HOMLOAN” (Tennessee has a 7 character limit) the other guy’s truck said “HOMEMTG”. Perhaps it was clever advertising. But I doubt anyone ever saw that plate and followed either of them to their office and filled out an application. It was probably more a case of two guys being defined more by what they did for a living and less by how they lived. I don’t know these two guys so I don’t have any reason to think they were bad men or whatever. But I saw two guys who spent the extra 80 bucks each to have their careers on their license plates. I’ve known other people who did that too. In most cases, if not all, their desire was to tell the world what they did, because they wanted to world to know them by what they did. One guy I know in a service career had the abbreviation for his career on his license plate. (i.e.; if he had been a “certified city planner” he would have had “CCP” on his plates) The ONLY thing you could get this man to talk about was his job. No sports, no politics, nothing whatsoever about his family. He was known and defined by his job. So if you had no interest in his line of work, you had nothing to talk about. That’s extreme but it happens. You see it in other forms too. Go golfing with guys you don’t know, and one of the first questions is “so…what do you do”. Look on the back of a guy’s boat. How many lawyers have boats named “Jurist Prudence” or “Legal Eagle”? (As a side note…my childhood hero, Bernie Parent, the hall of fame goalie for the Flyers has had a charter fishing business since before he retired from hockey…every boat he has owned has been the “Carol Anne” named after his wife. With all the obvious hockey references available to him he still chose his wife’s name). I once owned a boat, briefly, with someone else. The one and only name I could think of for the boat was “Morgan Wray”, by sweet little girl. Why? It’s because I am not defined by what I do for a living. She is the most important thing in my world and so if I have a venue where I am going to be publicly displaying my allegiance, even on a license plate or the back of a boat, I want to be proclaiming what matters most to me. When I first moved to Nashville, I had a small vending business. I sold Italian Ice at big events in Nashville. The first thing I did was develop a flavor especially named after my daughter. (Strawberry lemonade…appropriately named “Morgan’s Pink Lemonade”) Why? Because she was about a month old when I got started and she was then, as she is now, the only thing that really matters. When people walked up to check out Italian Ice for the first time, within mere moments they saw my daughters name, and I had the chance to brag about my precious little angel.
That is how I am defined. To my Lord, my family, and my friends I wanted to be known only as a loving husband, a great father, Holly’s husband and Morgan’s daddy. Success in business can be fleeting but those things matter forever. I wanted to be thought of in terms of how easily I showed my love for my daughter and how much I adored my wife. I wanted to be seen not as a successful businessman, but as a successful head of a family. Not as a single man in his forties in a sea of married people, but as a married man with a happy family. What I did for a living was just how I provided for what was really important. I don’t understand men who don’t think from that center. Your career is so fleeting, and if that is all you really are…what happens when you can’t be that anymore?
Everyone retires someday. Lots of companies have layoffs. People have accidents and can’t work anymore. What becomes of their identity once they can’t do the thing they identified with?
Divorce forces that on a man too. I was a husband, and I had a complete family. I had a picture of how I’d hoped it would be and I was working towards that goal each day. That was what defined me…not my job. When I went to pick up Morgan at daycare I was there as “Morgan’s Daddy” not “the mortgage guy”. When I saw her in her school plays and spelling bees I was their as her daddy, not some guy who was writing a book.
When we sat down to talk about what was on her heart, I never brought up interest rates of loan amounts. I am her daddy…first and only. What I do for a living is inconsequential as it relates to that role. Divorce took part of my identity and changed what it didn’t take. I was no longer identified as Holly’s husband. I was now identified by my failed marriage…and by the stigma that went with it. I was still identified as Morgan’s daddy, but now I sat somewhere else during the school activities because I wasn’t her mom’s husband anymore. In church, when groups of couples would go out for lunch after services, I am identified by what makes me different from them. I am single, in a group of married folks.
What I do for a living makes no difference when my identity has been changed.
I longed to be identified as a good man, but divorce changes that perception of me. My identity as a dad is restricted somewhat by time limitations because of the divorce.
All I ever longed to be known as was a great dad and husband and now one job is impossible and the other is a little more difficult. I am not identified as a success in the areas that mattered to me the most.
If I had a custom license plate it would say “MORGANZDAD-E”
That is my real identity.

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