Sunday, July 13, 2008

Obligation versus inspiration

My father was a counselor at my high school. As a school employee, he was required to arrive at school by 7 am, much earlier than my fellow students. As a school employee's daughter (with no other means of transportation), I was required to arrive at the same ungodly hour.

Making my dad late was not an option. If the span between waking up and walking out the door didn't leave me with enough time to get showered and get dressed, guess who was going to have a very embarrassing day at school? It took some serious hustling to avoid arriving on campus with drool caked on my face.

Unfortunately, I was not much of a morning person back then. I should have know better than to hit snooze again and again in the morning, but I didn't. I often had to rely on a "real" alarm -- my father's audible footsteps echoing down the hall on his way to the kitchen. Yikes! This meant I had to jump out of bed, zoom in and out of the shower, and throw clothes on all in the time it took him to have breakfast and pack his lunch.


One morning, for no reason I'm aware of, I woke up early. With plenty of time left after getting ready for the day, I decided to pack my dad's lunch. When he made his way into the kitchen, we had breakfast together then headed off to school.

I had enjoyed that. So the next day I tried hard to wake up early again. It was difficult, but I managed to get up with enough time for a repeat performance of the morning before. The third day was even more difficult, but I dragged myself through it. Ta da!

Then, on the fourth day, my teenage need for sleep outweighed my intentions and I was back to my normal routine. On our way out of the door, my dad asked "Where's my lunch?"

My heart sank -- suddenly the thoughtful little "bonus" I had offered as a gift felt like something I was obligated to continue. Where was my praise? It wasn't until then that I realized I had been expecting praise and was kind of resentful I hadn't received any. I didn't say anything, but I didn't pack his lunch again either.

I decided then that a gift should only be out of selfless inspiration. As a friend, a daughter, a partner, a good citizen there are plenty of things I do that have the weight of obligation tied to it. There are also plenty of things I do where I expect something in return. But, it's only when my sense of inspiration outweighs any sense of obligation or expectation that I consider something truly a gift.

Looking back, I realize it wasn't much of a gift I had offered my father.

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