Obligation Versus Appreciation

During college, the only summer that I actually went back home to Kokomo to stay with my folks was the summer after my sophomore year. I worked at Hobby Lobby, which was a crappy experience, but I got to spend quite a bit of time with friends. One night, while chilling at a friend’s house, I met a boy.

The boy seemed to like me. I don’t remember whether or not I liked him, but what I do remember is that he had dated one of my friends prior to meeting me, and I thought my friend was still interested in him. So I wasn’t going to touch him with a ten-foot pole. I just didn’t feel right about the prospect of hurting my friend’s feelings. Now before you go calling me “noble” or something, wait until I finish the rest of the story.

The boy, who I’ll call “Joe,” asked my friend for my number.

One night I arrived home after being out with friends, and my dad informed me that Joe had called the house and asked for me when I was out.

“Okay,” I said, and then left the room.

“Wait! Aren’t you going to call him back?” he asked.

“No, dad, I don’t like him.”

“Emily, he seemed like such a nice guy! Just call him back…even if you’re not interested. Just call him and tell him that.”

This conversation between my dad and I quickly escalated into a heated discussion about what he saw as my “moral obligation” to call this boy back. I stood my ground, but felt guilty. I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t even really know the guy and didn’t have anything to say to him. My dad, however, empathized with Joe’s plight, and felt compelled to persuade me to call him.

I refused.

A few days later, Joe called back, but this time I WAS at home. I remember my dad calling me downstairs to the phone and telling me, “It’s Joe,” with an ‘I told you so’ look on his face.

I nervously took the phone from his hand.

“Hi, Joe,” I managed to stammer out. Joe began to chat me up, while I quietly sat and mumbled only a few words. I was hoping he would get the point that I wasn’t interested if I just didn’t act the part.

He didn’t pick up on the hint, though, and asked me out.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.


My dad was definitely well meaning, and I love him dearly. But I still don’t agree with his theory that I owed Joe an explanation or a phone call.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of obligation, and how this is something I’ve struggled with for years. When the employees at Macy’s or some other retail store would ask me for my zip code or my email address when I was checking out, I kept giving it away. Then all of a sudden, I was getting a thousand advertisements in the mail and daily emails from stores. “This is ridiculous,” I thought.

But even when I finally started turning down retail employees’ requests for my personal info, I would feel strange just saying, “No.” Like I felt I owed these complete strangers an explanation. It was awkward to say “no,” while they stared me down in response.

A wise person in my life once told me, “You know you don’t owe anyone anything, except for your kid.” At one point in my life, I couldn’t fathom this thought. I mean, I know I obviously have parental responsibilities, but to seriously owe NO ONE else besides my kid ANYTHING at all?

Her point in telling me this was to help me understand that I have often made choices out of obligation to people, even when I didn’t want to. And I’ve often struggled with the thought that I “owed it” to someone, (anyone from a close family member to a complete stranger), to DO something that (s)he wanted me to do. Small examples would include, “I owe it to my friend to go to her daughter’s birthday party, since she came to my daughter’s birthday party.” Bigger examples of this would include, “I owe it to my husband to stay in this marriage even though it’s a living death.”

I figured out somewhere along the way that when I started to feel like I “owed it to someone to do something,” I actually was giving that person more control over my life than what he or she needed to have. I started realizing that it’s better to do something for someone out of appreciation and thankfulness for him or her, rather than out of obligation. When my actions stem from appreciation, those actions suddenly seem more meaningful.

And because I appreciate all of you, I want to share a recipe with you that I love.

This is my mom’s recipe for meatloaf. Actually I think she got it from Aunt Roxanna. It’s so simple, and it’s the only meatloaf I’ll eat.

Grace and/or Roxanna’s Meatloaf
1 LB. hamburger
1 egg
1 T. milk
2 slices of bread (torn into small pieces)
1 small onion chopped (1/3 cup ?)
3 T. catsup

Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, dash of oregano or whatever combination you prefer. Can also add some chopped green pepper. (I don’t) Mix all together with your hand until it sticks together. Then shape into loaf or meatballs.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour (loaf) possibly 45 min. for meatballs.

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