Like Mother/Father, Like Son
My mom once told me that I was the perfect genetic crossbreed of her and my father. Of course, I was happy to hear this. My father is logical and thorough, smart, detail oriented and methodical. My mother is emotionally empathic, sensitive and kind, endlessly giving, willing to laugh in situations that would make others embarrassed or scared, and a brilliant communicator. Not bad genetic stock certainly and if one is to be the perfect crossbreed of anything, this sounds like a pretty good blend. I am not sure where that leaves my brother, but he seems to be doing all right regardless.
I grew up trying to navigate between two worlds, that of the heart and that of the mind. My natural inclination was to gravitate towards the heart. I saw my mom working magic with hers. People just were drawn towards her, for advice, guidance, or just to be heard. At the same time I loved using my mind. I read the World Book Encyclopedia between ages eight and ten just for fun. This was a follow up to me trying to memorize the Guinness Book of World Records when I was seven. I was on my way to a life of solitude and weirdness.
My parents served as role models in different ways. My dad taught me about precision, work ethic, and focus. My mother taught me about working beyond rules and of being driven by passion. She told me stories about how she taught in Philadelphia in the 1960’s in one of the toughest neighborhoods at the time. She told me that elementary schoolers were dying around her in gang violence on a regular basis. She described how she would use unconventional techniques to reach her class on a deeply human level, techniques that disrupted the norm and in doing so made her students love her. She would read to the kids, stories and fables, and act them out in order to dramatize them and to capture the student’s attention. She brought dozens of kids to the zoo, kids who had never been out of a few block radius of their home. She would listen to what the students were afraid of and what they dreamed of. Knowing these stories of her taking risks like that, above and beyond what she likely expected as possible, were transformative to me. She just went for it, whatever the goal was in the moment, without care as to whether or not it was sanctioned or assured to be a success. Nothing stood in the way of what her ultimate goal was: to pay attention to the needs of others and then to act on those needs in service to those people.
When I moved to Seattle, I used this connective inspiration to develop as a speaker and communicator. I used words both as weapons and as tools in my punk/hardcore bands Trial and Between Earth & Sky. I took on as a personal goal to refine lyrics and vocal approaches in the way my father might have, but with the compassionate connectivity with which my mother demonstrated expertise. I did the same with my keynote speaking presentations and vocal coaching. Listening. Paying attention. Creative compassion. These are keys to connection and development.
As I’ve grown I realized that laughing throughout life like my mom has always done – in the midst of rules waiting to be broken – was a critical skill to have. And to have a sense of flow, of free form, of compassion amidst that laughter has been an incredible lesson in the creative side of life driven by what are seen as traditionally feminine elements.
Having influences from both of my parents was transformative in terms of shaking me out of a binary focus of heart vs mind. Even the traditional sense of male and female. Its never so simple. I needed both sides. I needed my father’s intense ability to study minutia and detail, but I needed that in conjunction with my mother’s willingness to pay attention to those students in war-ravaged inner city Philadelphia as if they were the only people in the world. She listened with her whole self.
And that sense, of listening and laughing with the whole self, and of breaking rules with precision, are lessons that guide me to this day.
With Great Love and Respect,
Kelly McNelis Senegor
Founder, Women For One