The cracks in everything
On repair, resilience and vulnerability
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Last weekend my wife and kids went to England for a few days, celebrating an early Diwali with their nani and nana. I was de rodríguez—a colloquial phrase for a husband who stays home while his family go on vacation, like the titular character from the 1965 movie "El Cálido Verano del Sr. Rodríguez."
I was planning a tame one: dinners with friends, a walk in the mountains, reading and writing in a quiet, tidy house. But late Thursday evening my phone buzzed: a friend, in line at Madrid passport control, jetlagged from LA—a “reverse rodríguez”, in a foreign city, with a weekend to himself.
"So we’re both kid-free. Less than 3 hours apart. And I've never been to Madrid ..."
An accidental alignment of stars and schedules. An opportunity for spontaneity, a relic from a life before children. So that's what we did. I jumped on a train, and we spent a weekend in a city new to us both. Armed with a fenomenal list of recommendations from the Madrileños in my life (gracias Olaya, Isa and Natalia) we spent 36 hours eating our way around the city, swapping tales from our voyages through fatherhood.
We haven't hung out since 2018, when we both left San Francisco, so we had a lot to catch up on: families, jobs, children, our ups and our downs. I talked about my struggle after our youngest was born.
“It’s strange," I told him, "after how tough it all was, I'm grateful for it. Putting myself back together made me realise how strong I could be."
Nietzsche famously said "what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." It's a borderline cliché. But it's a phrase that continues to feel visceral—it speaks to progress, healing and resilience. Thinking about our conversation on the train home, watching a golden sun setting over the sandy vistas of central Spain, my mind lept to broken ceramics, and the Japanese art of kintsugi.
For the uninitiated: when a pot breaks, the easiest thing to do is throw it away1. If it's one you like, maybe you'll bust out the Super Glue to try and make it "good as new." But practitioners of kintsugi use a lacquer mixed with of powdered gold to repair the item, making the repair inseparable from the object (in Japanese 金継ぎ literally translates as "golden joining.")
The object becomes more compelling than it ever was. It is imbued with a sense of history. A new beauty, where the breakage becomes part of the story, and the process of repair becomes as important as the craft of construction.
Bonnie Kemske, author of Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend said it is "an intimate metaphoric narrative of loss and recovery, breakage and restoration, tragedy and the ability to overcome it [...] it speaks of fortitude, uniqueness and the beauty in survival, leading us to a respectful acceptance of loss and hardship."
As men, we hide our weaknesses away. We pretend they don't exist, or work quickly to fix them, doing our darndest to ensure they're invisible to all. But these cracks are the making of us—proof that we're fallible, that we can come back from whatever we’re dealt. We each have a set of scars, unique to us, and it's only by exposing them, and making our repairs visible to the world, that we help others do the same.
Keeping my golden seams visible reminds me how far I've come, and the work it took to get there: the support of my wife, friends and family; my time in conversational therapy; the weekly therapy of this newsletter, showing my cracks to you all; my explorations in meditation and mycology; the conversations with those who show their breakages to me.
These cracks are mine: my struggles, my imperfections, my vulnerabilities, my restoration.
I wear them with pride.
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."
— Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms”
3 things to read this week
If you'd like to read more on kintsugi, I'd suggest starting with Bonnie Kemske's essay on how it helped her deal with the death of her brother, follow it up with this School of Life post that ties it to the Zen ideal of wabi-sabi, and finish with a little geekery in how the concept made it's way into the Star Wars universe.
Some damn good advice: the Evil Witches newsletter (and community) shared tips on helping children with ongoing health conditions navigate emotional issues when being treated as a patient, and not a person. Might be useful to you, or another parent you know.
As I mentioned last week, The Daily Stoic sits in our living room as a go-to read every morning. The author Ryan Holiday recently shared 34 Mistakes on the Way to 34 Years Old which includes some thoughts on fatherhood: "I wish I had kids earlier ... I think I was worried I wasn’t ready, but the truth is you’re never ready. You learn by doing. You’re only putting off the thing that will provide you the most meaning and joy in your life."
One thing to watch with the kids this week
Why not sit down with your kids see what they think about kintsugi? Here's something to get the conversation going ...
A final thing that's worth your time
The Nerdwriter is one of my favourite YouTubers, with every video worth watching. His take on the kintsugi is not to be missed, framing it in the screenwriting trope of "why can't we go back to the way things were?"
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”
— Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
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