One of my very favorite games as a kid was Connect Four. Milton Bradley first released the game in 1974, when I was 4 years old. (Coincidentally, my favorite number has always been 4, pretty much as soon as I knew my numbers.) It was a simple game - get four of your checkers in a row before your partner does and you win. It was also fun, fast-paced, and a great way for me to get time with a family member.
Another memory I have from that time came back to me this past weekend. I was recalling how I would sit in the backseat of our family car when I was very young, counting off telephone poles or mailboxes or sign-posts in groups of four. It was so soothing to me.
As I shared that little anecdote with someone, they asked me about the significance of the number four - why did that number matter to me? I had to admit I'd never considered it, that I didn't really know why. That question about the meaning of the number 4 stuck with me and kept coming back up as the ensuing week unfolded.
Over the next few days I ended up in a series of conversations, both personal and professional, that all touched on the theme of connection. This should not be surprising to me; one of the clearest revelations I've had over the past several years while working on my personal growth has been that my true life purpose is to "Slow Down And Connect". (That's four words, if you're counting at home - just sayin'.)
While talking with an octogenarian friend of mine on Tuesday about her life and work, the theme showed up as we talked about how stories connect us and how important it is to connect with our emotions. Later on in a men's group that I attend regularly, we talked about how important it is to pause in the midst of uncomfortable conversations so that we might more effectively connect, not only with our thoughts, motives & understanding, but also with other people - especially when they come from different backgrounds.
And then it finally came together... While on a call with my peer coaching group (there are, yup, four of us), I was discussing this tangle of thoughts in my head about connection. As I meandered through some half-formed thoughts and feelings, one of my peers saw a link I hadn't clearly put together.
My desire for connection, formed at a very young age in the midst of a family marked by a distinct lack of safe connection, is part of a four-stranded knot. I realized that I have had to work hard to overcome my Shame about my fractured family, creating new Connections (in my internal emotional landscape, with higher principles that guide me towards a more positive life, and with other people), typically through an increasing willingness to experience Vulnerability, so I can have the wide range of loving, intimate, trusted Relationships that make my life so rich.
I never saw those four words on the sign-posts or telephone poles of my youth. Nor were they ever spoken of within my family. (We also never used that other 4-letter word: love.) And so it has taken me half a lifetime to come to the realization that I can connect in the ways I want, building beautiful relationships that make my life flow, if I am willing to overcome my shame through vulnerability.
I guess I now know the meaning of the number 4.
Anyone got an old copy of that old Connect Four game hanging around that you want to donate to an aficionado? ; )
Jim Young is a coach, facilitator, and Dad who lives in Western Massachusetts. He might start spelling his name "Jimm" so he can have a four letter name.
When Jim isn't Dadding his ass off with his 3 teens, he might be on a stage doing improv (pre-COVID), or working with people to help them find their connections. The more he slows down, the easier all of those things seem to be.
If you want to talk more about old games, parenting, relationships or anything else, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're a guy wanting to pick up some new skills to help you connect better within your relationships, Jim's 3-D Men program (um... maybe he should look into a 4th dimension...) offers specific tools and techniques that will do just that.