Friday, April 5, 2013

Gifted

I think Dad is gifted.

Just as when I first came out as a lesbian at age 17 my gaydar began buzzing around everyone, since I discovered I'm probably gifted last October I now suspect everyone around me is gifted too.  I know deep down this is not true, that I'm simply projecting my innate traits onto those around me, but that doesn't stop me from thinking it.  I suppose I should do some research on narcissism next.

Before we go on, let me explain something.  When I say "gifted" I mean much more than "high IQ" or "high achievement" or "smartypants" or whatever most people think when they hear the word.  Sure, my IQ is relatively high: 134 if you trust the test I gave myself out of a book I borrowed from the library years ago.  The same test I gave my mom while she was doing two other things at the same time, sewing and watching TV, and she still managed to score two points higher than I did even though I shut myself into a quiet room so I could focus and take it seriously.  But I don't really care about IQ scores.  I'm much more interested in how a gifted brain might influence a person's emotional barometer.

Mom tells me Dad scored 120 when he was given an IQ test in high school.  He skipped a grade and graduated one year early, just one month after he turned seventeen.  When I was growing up I had such a lousy relationship with my dad, and because of my own emotional immaturity, it was impossible for me to think anything good about my dad.  Mom was the good parent, selfless, sweet, kind, understanding, funny, smart, open-minded.  Dad was the bad parent, selfish, mean, rude, impatient, dull, stupid, narrow-minded.  So when Mom told me dad had a pretty high IQ I was shocked.  How could that be?  He's such an asshole.

I've grown up a bit and I now realize my black-and-white thinking about my parents did me more harm than good.  Just because I got along better with my mom than I did with my dad doesn't mean Mom's the good parent and Dad's the bad parent.  Just because I like Mom as a person more than I like Dad doesn't mean I should embrace Mom's giftedness and ignore Dad's.

In fact, in many ways I think it's Dad's giftedness that's gotten him into the most trouble over the years.  Because he never learned to hone his talents for good.  He's being driven insane by his difference.

More than high IQ, to me gifted means an uncommon mind, unusual ability to think and understand, a love of the complex and a boredom with the norm.  And that has its downsides.  Sometimes life sucks and it's better to not think too hard about it.  Ignorance is bliss and all that.  Here's a good article by Stephanie Tolan on the subject.  This part especially resonates with me:

"It is vital to remember that giftedness (in childhood and beyond) is an internal reality, mental processing that is outside of norms. Achievement, as important as it is, is merely an expression of that mental processing.  Achievement may fluctuate depending on a student's immediate situation, his relationship with a particular teacher, the availability of courses of sufficient challenge and interest, even physical health. Giftedness does not depend on such variables. Whether or not it finds expression in achievement or unusual performance the internal difference remains."

"That internal difference is likely to include emotional intensity, unusual awareness and tolerance of complexity and paradox, and a potential for extraordinary moral development. During childhood and beyond these innate attributes may enhance or interfere with performance on various tasks, depending in part on how well they are recognized, understood and guided by the adults in the child's environment."

"The child who perceives typical rough and tumble competition on the playground as purposeless violence and connects that violence to persistent ethnic warfare on a global scale may become depressed and cynical about the future of humanity. He may withdraw and become a bitter, self-isolating loner. Or he may, instead, set himself the task of attempting to understand the roots of conflict, and commit himself to a life of peace-making and diplomacy." 

Here's another article by Tolan that's been helpful in my self-discovery.  This part especially:

"The experience of the gifted adult is the experience of an unusual consciousness, an extraordinary mind whose perceptions and judgments may be different enough to require an extraordinary courage. Large numbers of gifted adults, aware not only of their mental capacities but of the degree to which those capacities set them apart, understand this."

"For many, however, a complete honoring of the self must begin with discovering what sort of consciousness, what sort of mind they possess. That their own perceptions and judgments are unusual may have been obvious since childhood, but they may have spent their lives assuming that this difference was a deficit, a fault, even a defect of character or a sign of mental illness (Lovecky, 1986; Alvarado, 1989). Thinking independently may seem foolhardy or antisocial."

Could Dad's bitter, antisocial behavior stem from unrecognized giftedness?  If instead of getting beaten with a belt by his alcoholic Dad and shipped off to Europe to help with the cleanup after World War II, if Dad had gotten the proper guidance from caring people in his young life, would he still be the bitter, antisocial person he is today?  

When I was a kid and my parents were still married, often at family gatherings if you couldn't find my dad he'd be in his bedroom watching TV.  In fact most of my memories of my father are of him sitting in front of the TV.  He worked long hours, usually 6AM to 5PM, every day.  He came home cranky, wanting nothing more than to eat dinner and veg out in front of the TV before going to bed at 8PM and waking up and doing it all over again.  I loved TV when I was a kid, but by my early twenties I had grown tired of it and, for the most part, gave it up a decade ago.  I would not be a TV junkie like Dad.  I decided to embrace my own life rather than sit in front of a screen watching someone else's version of life.

So I was surprised when, yesterday at his birthday lunch, Dad said he can barely stand to watch TV anymore.  Finally, something we have in common.  I could totally relate when he began bitching and moaning about how horrible most TV is.  He even admitted to thinking of ditching cable altogether and just using his TV to watch the news and some DVDs he can check out for free at the library.

Weird.  When did Dad become me?

On the drive home, I said to Will I think the reason Dad and I fought so much when I was younger is because, I hate to admit it but it's true, we're so much alike.  We're cranky and moody and bitter.  We both get bored by most things other people find delightful.  We're intense and frustrated and angry.

The difference is I'm that, and more.  I'm also open-minded and funny and kind like Mom.  Sure, I have tendencies toward bitter self-isolation, but for the most part, I've learned to hone my gifts for good.

As we began parting ways after his birthday lunch, I gave Dad a big hug and I kissed him on the cheek.  It's all I've got.  I often feel like the Little Drummer Girl around my dad.    

I long ago gave up buying Dad a birthday gift.  He was never satisfied with what I got him.  Once his ex-wife even showed up at the public library where I work to hand over the shirt I'd given him at his party a few days before.  "It doesn't have a pocket for his pens and checkbook and all the things he carries around."

I should buy the old man a fucking purse, I thought.  Instead, I took the shirt back and said nothing.  After he complained about the seeds in the raspberry pie I got him hurting his dentures, despite my vivid memory of him sending me out to pick raspberries from his thorny fucking raspberry bush and him shoveling handfuls of those suckers into his mouth with delight when I was a kid, I gave up.  No more gifts for you, buddy.  

Both Dad and Mom have imbued me with this giftedness.  Too bad I can't figure out a way to give Dad some of the goodness I've honed from it.  A hug is all I've got.  It's up to him to embrace it.