The View from the Roof

In the fall I make three annual pilgrimages. Unless of course I forget to. Unfortunately, one is often to my roof. The Manse passed its centenary a few years back, and the roof is old. The other Victorians in the neighborhood are mostly flat roofed, but the manse boasts a high hip roof which stands proudly above its neighbors.

Very high…

Three and a half stories above the street…not squat modern stories either…on a 45 degree angle. There’s no walking. That’s not a surface you can “kind of ” walk on. It’s a rappelling job.

Once upon a time I used to do a little climbing. Never with ropes though. Somebody in our group would get the idea to go rock climbing and we’d pile down some ridiculous scarp or up some cliff, without any regard for our lives, showing our supposed bravery by pointedly ignoring the immediacy of a fall that would leave us hurt or worse. Nowadays I suppose we could call it “extreme sports.”

I never really learned to climb the way real climbers do, using ropes and belay points and slings and devices. That didn’t suit the “spur of the moment” nature of our crowd. It was a little too much like organized sports.

So, I found myself learning rappelling for the joy of patching my roof, and this weekend it was time to try and fix some of the damages of the year before the winter comes. Eventually I’ll get round to coughing up the 20k to pay to have professional roofers handle it, but I keep finding something better to spend the money on when I have it in hand.

I’m not afraid of heights particularly. But I know rappelling is a dangerous sport, and I’m always a little nervous about the fact that I’m self-taught, out of books, not “trained” in the proper fashion. I’ve never really had the opportunity and I’m smart, but…I’m aware I need to be very careful. There are responsibilities in my life now, and I can’t be as reckless as I was many years ago.

But you might have guessed this isn’t a story about patching my roof…

I’ve mentioned before that rope work is not my strong point. miranda is really our rope expert, though jenn is coming right along. I’m pretty good at other 3d work but both girls pick up rope faster than I do, and miranda has a real faculty for being able to tie anything she can see.

Before going out, I had miranda tie the belay and check my auto-block. This isn’t climbing for pleasure and I use two Petzl ascenders to handle most of the moving around, but the auto-block is an important safety backup. And of course the belay is the thing that keeps me from contacting the pavement in a fair imitation of a rotten tomato at a Cherry Sisters performance.

In the evening miranda thanked me for the trust I’d shown in allowing her to set up the belay. The fact that I hadn’t let my own pride get in the way and felt I had to do it myself, but let someone more competent handle it. “I felt better because I knew I had done it.”

That got me to thinking…

One of the qualities I have tried hardest to develop as an adult is the ability to divest control. I am obviously a control freak, or to put it in a more complimentary light a “controlling bastard.” I think that’s a tendency among Masters and Dominants. Sort of goes with the turf.

But I realized years ago that too much control wasn’t good. It left me stuck with my own resources, and try as hard as I might to be a Renaissance Man, I end up being a jack of trades but master of few. I am also not made of time, and to control everything myself is to obligate all of my time.

The reason this was interesting is that control has been a subject with the girls in the past few months. jenn and miranda are both growing very quickly in terms of taking responsibility and finding their way in life. And that is certain to bring up the question “so why the fuck do I let this older man take control of significant elements of my life.”

Sure…I have a comparatively egalitarian household. Little of great importance happens without consultation, and I’ve never represented myself as a “my way or the highway,” Master.

But in the end, it is about control. There are times when I must say “I know better than you, and I am going to exert control over you,” or it’s just a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. I can be as cooperative as hell about it, but if the basic concept isn’t there “I will exert control in these ways,” then it’s all just an empty pretense.

So…it presents a good question. I was raised as Democratic as the next American. Why should anybody give over control to another person. Isn’t that a terrible stroke against personal pride.

And I’ve seen that. It’s been a sharp pain. The internal voice asking in the most humiliating possible tone “what kind of useless girl are you that you let some man have control of your life. “

I can point out all the benefits, all the gains, all the growth. But neither girl has ever doubted it, so it’s a moot point.

I’ve sat and talked and heard the same story. “My logical mind tells me that you’ve improved my life and that I am better off with you and I want to stay. But a part of me is telling me that I should want to run away and hate you because you are controlling me and I ought to be able to stand on my own two feet.” And I know it is tough. I see the conflict. Our society teaches us that giving any control to someone else is wrong, is self-betrayal or worse.

I can try to explain why accepting help, guidance and control from another person, why an act of trust and faith that they can guide you is not self-betrayal or immature abrogation of responsibility; that it is wisdom and a sign of maturity.

And it’s hard for me to preach what I don’t practice. I know in principle I have signed on to being willing to intelligently delegate control of my life and projects. But…because of my age and situation, I am usually the controlling partner.

Today I got a rare chance to give up control without a thought. It was a minor matter, just my own personal safety. It really didn’t occur to me not to trust and voluntarily hand control over to someone more experienced than me. It pleased me that I acted to give up control for my own safety as readily and with as little hesitation as I ask my girls to.

But thinking back over the day I understood some of how they feel. I saw myself twenty years ago. Ashamed of not knowing how to tie knots well. Vain and arrogant in my own assurances that I should do everything for myself and my own way. Proud of having learned it all on my own from a book without an instructor.

I would have had to struggle with myself to turn the job over to someone else. It would have been a big deal.

Maturity has had its way. I never had any doubt who should tie my belay. Being “Master” does not mean knowing everything better than everyone else. It means being smart enough to know your own limits.

And I think that is at the core. Maturity and wisdom is understanding one’s own limits and understanding how we can accomplish more when we give up control than when we retain it.

I struggle to be a Master worthy of the control I am given.

But I will never be the “go to” guy for knots.

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