Someone close to me is walking through their husband’s first major work related “failure.” You know the feeling of dread that a guy gets before he hears the words “turn your head and cough” or “bend over, you’re going to feel three fingers”? These have nothing on the deep, deep sense of dread, shame, and anger he goes through when failing at his job.
I am not a man, of course, so I cannot tell you what a man goes through with complete certainty.
I only have a dad who has failed and a husband who has failed.
And let me tell you, watching a man that you love- fail- just plain SUCKS.
When I was a little girl my dad and mom moved my sisters and I from small town Mississippi (where all of our family lived), to the bustling, overcrowded, multi-cultural, drug-ridden side of the biggest city I had ever seen with my own eyeballs.
Fort Worth, Texas.
Before we moved my mom was a youth minister and my dad was a police officer. But one day he had an epiphany. My dad, the police officer with anger issues, felt like he heard God tell him to join the clergy. Become a minister. Go to seminary. Change the course of your entire life for MY sake. Incredibly, my dad listened.
My dad put a lot on the line.
He had three little girls: 8,7, and 3 who had only known life around our grandparents, life in a small town, life roaming in the woods and playing under magnolia trees. He wagered all that on a dream. An epiphany from God.
His dad helped us move to Texas and I will always remember my Papaw crying in the Pizza Hut parking lot as he hugged our necks and said good-bye. I had no way of knowing then that my Papaw and Mamaw would never come visit me. That because we were moving to a different state, my grandparents would not make any effort to be a part of my life. Maybe my dad knew the bitterness he was stirring up by leaving his parents behind. Still, he wagered that on a dream.
We moved to the ghetto. They started seminary. And three months later, I turned nine.
I only remember this because for the first time in my life my mom let me buy party favors for my birthday party. I was so excited. I had Lisa Frank bags with Lisa Frank stickers and coloring books and bubbles and candy for everyone who came. And as the minutes ticked away and no one came, I remember my mom wiping tears off her face and quietly slipping the party bags off the table while my dad took the few presents they were able to afford and unwrapped them, divided them up, and re-wrapped them to make it look like there was more there than there actually was. Like maybe I had a friend who had come and brought me a present.
My parents wagered a lot on this dream.
Dad took a job as a security guard at the local hospital to make ends meet. For a while he worked at a half-way house. Mom went on staff at a small church with a pastor who slept around with women in the congregation and stole money from the church. My sisters and I got lice from the neighbor kids and I spent the third grade convinced that, “Mexican men kidnapped little white girls with green eyes who walked home by themselves from school.”
I’m not sure who told me that, but I had never known anything urban or multi-cultural in my life; I was little and I believed it.
I spent an entire year convinced that I would be kidnapped as I walked home from school.
Several years later my parents graduated seminary and my mom found the perfect job at a church that ended up being our home for many, many years.
But my dad found nothing.
Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. He worked jobs he hated to put food on the table. He doubted whether he ever “heard” God in the first place. He lived, for quite some time, in the land of dread, shame, and anger. He had failed. He wagered everything on this dream. On what he thought was a calling from God. He put it all on the line. Uprooting his family. Changing the entire course of his little girl’s lives. Quitting the only career he had ever known and ever been good at to become “a man of the cloth.” And two years after graduating seminary he was bagging newspapers for minimum wage in the basement of a printing plant in downtown Dallas.
I have seen a man fail.
It is brutal. Gut-wrenching. And deeply heart breaking.
To watch someone risk it all and fail is to watch their heart being ripped from their own hands. And to know, that they know, the whole world is watching them fall a part- well, it only adds insult to life-threatening injury.
At least that’s what it feels like.
I would rather be run over by a car, or slowly tortured than to watch my dad or my husband have their confidence and dreams stripped from them.
Take me Lord. Please. I will endure anything. I will voluntarily be tortured. I will work three jobs. I will scrub toilets. I will make a deal with the devil. Anything. Just don’t let a man that I love be humiliated. Don’t let him fail.
Last night, out of no where, Ryan said he would love a Nissan Maxima. Something sporty, but grown up.
“Really, I just so desperately want my own car.”
“What, you don’t love our vibrating 99’ Ford Escort? You don’t want to share a car with me anymore?!? That’s tacky. I want to share an old nasty car with you for the rest of our lives!!!”
I make light of it, but it is a constant reminder of our financial reality. Our failures. I see it in Ryan’s eyes and it kills me. He’s a grown man who has worked his butt off and sacrificed so much, for so many people, for so long. He deserves his own car. Or at least a car that doesn’t vibrate.
Watching a man that you love stare failure in the face is numbing.
So to my friend, who is standing there today, I am so sorry. I have been there.
And here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
- We all fail.
- We all process failure differently.
- Failure, eventually, ultimately, is good.
In light of that...
1. Don’t try and act as if he didn’t really fail. IE: “It’s not your fault, it’s that a**hole boss of yours.” “The test was rigged” “The process was unjust” “Those results can’t be right... you don’t fail.”
Don’t put the pressure on someone you love of being incapable of failure. Trust me, they are actually capable of great failure. And while it feels good and does no harm to have the initial gripe session where you blame and bash the rest of the world, ultimately, the man failed and deep down he needs to be able to come to terms with his own limitations.
No one wants to acknowledge failure. It’s a bitter pill. But I would wager to say, at the same time, most men don’t want a woman in their life (be it mom, friend, sister, wife, lover) who goes around making excuses for them and being angry at the world for the perceived injustices that their male counterpart is experiencing. So after the initial anger and grieving are over, it’s ok to let it sit there. The failure. It’s ok to acknowledge its existence. He failed. It sucks. But he failed. Don’t make excuses for him.
2. Don’t force the process. Every human will process failure differently. Let him process the way he needs to. You don’t need to send out an urgent prayer request if he wants to keep the whole thing quiet and you don’t have to build him up into superhuman status if he just wants to sit and sulk for a while. The worst part of watching someone you love fail is that you simply can’t fix it for them and you have to allow them to muddle through much of the guilt and shame by themselves. Life is not meant to be a singular experience, that is for sure, but there is something about staring your shortcomings in the face- without the rose colored glasses and overprotective presence of a perpetual cheerleader, that causes you to grow.
Somedays dad would come home from bagging papers and he was just angry. I didn’t want him to be and I remember trying to make the spaghetti noodles extra good on those nights so that maybe it would make things better. Better dinner. Better life. But my sixth grade attempts of “fixing” my dad fell miserably short because what he needed was not a fixer, what he needed was the freedom to be mad. You gotta give them space to process their failures without writing it off as “God’s will” “somebody else’s fault” or trying to fix it for them so that they don’t have to face it at all.
The best thing you can do is give them the space they need to process the failure at hand. Let them know you are there for them and you love them unconditionally... then... zip it. Sit on your hands. Tie your ankles together with rope if you must. But don’t dominate his process of facing failures with lame attempts to rescue him.
3. Finally, as you watch the brutal process and long to make things better, take up the cause of HOPE, because eventually, ultimately, failure is good.
Failure is good for the man who lives in prideful arrogance. Failure is good for the man who lacks grace. Failure is good for the man who has lived a charmed life. Failure is good for the man who lacks compassion. Failure is good for the man who believes he can control his own destiny.
Failure is good for the man, woman, boy or girl who longs to know God; because it is only in our brokenness that we realize our need for grace.
Failure is good for the man who desires wisdom. Failure is good for the man who wants to live empathetically. And failure is good for the man who seeks to love others, because failure makes us real. Failure makes us relatable. Failure evens out the playing field. No one is beyond it or above it. Everyone fails.
Failure makes a man fully a man.
Failure is eventually, ultimately good.
I grew up and had lots of birthday parties with lots of friends and lots of presents.
I have more “adopted” grandparents than any kid I’ve ever known, and it has more than made up for the grandparents who chose to take a back seat in my life.
My dad got his dream job after being jobless for nearly three years.
The job was working for Baylor University. He sent my sisters and I to a top-ranked, private college for free. Not one penny of debt. And we have incredible degrees and life experiences that he never dreamed he would be able to give us.
My dad is a pastor now and has been in ministry for over 15 years. He is an incredibly gifted minister who pours into the lives of others and makes a difference in the world around him.
The dream he wagered so many things against came to pass and his failures have became valleys of the past.
Most importantly, my dad walked a way from his failures a new man.
A man of grace. Courage. And perseverance. A man of empathy, humility, and awareness. Aware that he was not perfect, and no one else was for that matter. My dad came out on the other side of his failures a better man...
And I am convinced your husband will as well. He is a good man. And this might be the best thing that has ever happened to him.
Don’t lose hope sweet friend.