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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Diggin’ Up Bones

by JAR

I used to work for a power systems company that manufactured and serviced electric motors and electronic variable frequency drives for use in different industrial applications. Although the company’s main focus was on oilfield drilling controls (top drives, drawworks, mud pumps, etc.), one of the many smaller niches that we had carved out was in controlling the pumping and drilling motors on dredgers.

Dredging is the process where the sediments on the bottom of a body of water are extracted and moved elsewhere. Some dredgers use a large scoop, similar to a backhoe; most of the dredgers I worked on would actually break up the sediment with a large drill and suck it up using essentially a giant vacuum, then pump the material to another location (sometimes the shoreline, sometimes a barge). Along coastlines, this technique is used to protect the shape of the beaches. In Houston, contractors employ dredgers to keep the ship channel deep enough for the large freight ships to safely navigate to the docks. In Dubai, they excavated sand from deep seabeds in order to build a beautiful island shaped like a palm tree. However, there are many drawbacks to the process, and one major one that we will discuss here:

Whenever you dig up the bottom of a bayou, river, lake, or ocean, you never really know what you can expect to find.
Everything that sinks when discarded into a body of water has the potential to be dredged up when the floor is disturbed. That includes trash, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, bikes, cars, at least one ATM to my knowledge, and even human bodies--I understand the latter to be quite a harrowing experience, though it is one that I have not personally had to endure. Items that were long since forgotten are brought up to the surface, and can even cause issues with the dredging process itself by getting stuck in the pumps or breaking the drills. These are the risks you take when you start carving up the bed of a bayou.

They are also the same risks you take whenever you start dredging up your past.

You have all sorts of emotional trash buried on the seafloor of your own heart and soul; start excavating that trash, and you will--not could or might, but you absolutely will--find junk that you do not want to face. But you have to face it. For one thing, that is part of being an adult, part of maturing. But it runs deeper than that: ignoring your own emotions, or refusing to dig them up and move them out of the way, can cause issues with your relationships as a husband--and definitely as a father. Do you know why?


Emotional dredging will happen, whether you prepare for it or not; whether you intend it or not; and whether you want it to or not. I have struggled mightily with this issue; I was taught to compartmentalize my emotions--trained very well to do so when I was in the Marines--and to bury them under a calm surface. It was called “military bearing.” But the walls separating the compartments are not as strong as I would like them to be; they are not invincible. And when the walls hemorrhage it is usually with an explosion. That is why it is imperative to face the emotions on your own terms--if you do the dredging, the trash has already been removed and there are no surprises later.

Emotional dredging allows you to maintain your “coastlines,” or in other words the interactions you have between yourself and others--especially your spouse and children.

Emotional dredging cleans out the gunk from the bottom of your heart so that there is enough space in there to grow your love for those around you.

Emotional dredging offers the ability to beautify your soul--to create real habitable spaces that you did not even know existed before! (FYI: We are men among men--there’s no reason to fear the concept of “beauty!”)

Life lesson: Face your emotions.

A great man once told me that in order to do what great men do, you must discipline your mind. In order to discipline your mind, you have to know what is up there--you must bravely face each emotion you feel rather than cowardly burying it away and hoping it will never resurface. I realized what a futile endeavor burying my emotions was once I reached fatherhood. Our wives know exactly how to press our buttons--but we expect them to do so; children have an unfiltered way of pressing our buttons without consciously doing so, particularly when we least expect it. That fact makes them more dangerous to those who might be emotionally unprepared.

I have faced many emotions trying to come to terms with my upbringing: embarrassment, jealousy, anger, sadness, confusion… the list goes on. And on. And on. I certainly have not faced them all, and will probably continue to dredge up crap from my psyche as my boys start to actively push my buttons. Knowing--acknowledging--that those emotions are there is at least a start; the courage to face them is how true emotional growth begins.

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