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  • Writer's pictureMC Mendez

Is life really a fight?

My father died last year just before Christmas, from a throat cancer that had been eating away at him for about 6 years. While the whole experience was quite distressful on many levels, there is one thing that people kept telling me: “Your dad was such a fighter”, “He was so resilient. He never gave up”. And indeed I could recognise my father in those words, but the more I thought about it the more I wondered if all that fighting, which so characterised him throughout his life, had really been that beneficial.

We tend to see perseverance, toughness and resilience as incredible qualities, but taken to the extreme they can borderline on stubbornness, strictness and even denial. And come to think of it, my father would often fight against and very rarely for…

He was a Spaniard through and through. Unfortunately he barely knew his father and was poorly raised, if at all, by his mother whom eventually sent him off to France to her brother to look after him. When I was a kid, all my father would talk about was his work or his military service years in San Sebastian, which he remembered with great fondness. He was fascinated by weapons and westerns, which he could watch on a loop. His mottos were: “Hit first, ask questions later” or “Give the first punch, you may not get another chance”. He was very overbearing and thought discipline was the only way forward.

He had a good sense of humour but mostly I grew up with this, often angry and overly disciplinary man, who eventually turned alcoholic, who thought life was a fight and that to be worthy you had to suffer, take it on the chin and “always pull trough”: “Seguir adelante!” as he would say. So, as the obedient child that I had to become (for my own survival), I took that on and I too thought life was a fight for many years and acted accordingly. As a teenager, I would be sociable but I always kept my distance and gave my trust to a very few, only if I felt 100% secure with them. It worked for a while, but eventually being (or seeming) strong at all times became too hard.

In order to keep up appearances continuously, I invariably had to keep lying to myself and others about how I really was. I would suppress my emotions. It also involved feeling alone against the world. And although I had great friends to love and support me, I remember feeling very lonely and disconnected deep down. I didn’t know it at the time but there was no room for vulnerability in that world and as Brené Brown says it so well: “Vulnerability is the source of creativity, authenticity and change.”

So for a long period of my life I was in limbo, with surges of strength where I would battle the world, and moments of retreat where I would lick my wounds, feel drained and very lost indeed. Living like that was exhausting because I was rarely at ease, like a soldier armed to the teeth expecting a full-on attack at any moment. And then one day, once again, my father gave me the full speech of how life was an "inevitable fight" and it suddenly dawned on me that, given the choice, it was a very dark way to see and experience life, and the important detail that stuck then was that I did have a choice. This was his vision of the world, not mine. An understandable one, moulded by a very harsh childhood, but his coping strategies didn’t have to become my truths or beliefs!

This opened up many topics of introspection for me, some of which I am still working on today. It bode questions about unconditional love, self worth, vulnerability and trust. What was life if it wasn’t a fight? I travelled around the world for a year before turning 30 (A while back then :-) and one of the things that surprised me the most was that more than 95% of the people I met were helpful, curious, interested or benevolent. That’s a lot of people! And I’m not saying we should all turn into big teddy bears, wear flower crowns and hold hands, but being fully geared up and ready to fight at all times does seem a little overkill, right?

So eventually I found myself at the barrack’s gates, knowing what I was leaving but bewildered as to where I was headed. It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time. I was going to shape a new vision for my own life. Going back to Brené Brown, she says: “Allowing one self to be vulnerable, is accepting to be imperfect and still worthy of love and belonging!” How’s that for an old warrior-turned-pacifist’s new motto?

As for my father his fight is done and truly over. I wish he’d also left the battlefield earlier on in his life, but that’s me pushing my vision of the world onto him. I guess it's up to each and everyone to decide how they intend to live their lives no matter their past. We can hang on to the suffering and let it define us or we can decide to do differently and dare something better.

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