To Have and Have To

I cannot begin to say how rewarding I find my random conversations with Brother. To be so alike, and yet so vaguely acquainted… It is a fascinating thing. I would not go so far as to say that I am grateful for the religious and family factors that divided me from so many people in my family of origin, but it is a fascinating exercise to get to spend time with people I am so closely connected to even though I have barely known them.

These conversations are remarkably open and safe, endlessly tangential, and spattered with two of my favorite things – movie quotes and Bible jokes. Brilliant!!

The age difference makes it fun, too. There are so many things that I went through at his age, and his angst or observations allows me to relive a number of such things. And reminds me how many experiences we did not consciously share because I was an adult and he was an infant.

Tonight we were talking jobs. Brother mentioned a place he had worked, and then began to explain what the company was.

Me – I know. I used to work there too.

Brother – You did?

Me – Yes. Actually, that is the job I had when I quit working to stay home with you.

Brother – You did that? I didn’t know that happened.

Me – Yep. When you were first born Mom couldn’t carry you or anything (Our Mom had an illness which caused some moderate to severe motor dysfunction and she’d randomly lose control of her limbs and fall or drop things. Not an ideal environment for an infant…), so I quit work to stay home and take care of you for a while.

Brother – So you’re my mom.

Me – Kinda.

Brother – Cool.


There have been some significant transitions for Brother lately, and he was mentioning his mounting frustration with any number of things he has to do, and I remembered something I discovered many years ago when I was first breaking in my Adult shoes…


“Have to” is a poisonous phrase. I don’t remember what exactly brought me to this discovery, but I remember one day feeling particularly fed up with my life and deciding I was going to do my best not say “have to” anymore. It’s toxic. It’s a lie. It’s ugly.

The fact is, I don’t have to. I never have to. I don’t have to go to work. I don’t have to pay my bills. I don’t have to take care of my family. I don’t have to do anything.

‘I choose to’ is good. ‘I get to’ is better. For me anyway.

Sometimes it’s challenging to make the leap from “I have to” to “I get to.” It’s not always a short walk from “this must be done” to “My Gosh, what an honor!” But I can usually get there if I make an effort.

‘I have to clean the toilet’.

It feels valid. I have to. It’s a toilet. It needs cleaned. In spite of all the movies from my childhood that suggest some friendly furry fellow will happen along and do it for me if my heart is good and I sing happy songs, the fact is, there’s no one coming to do my chores. I have to do them.

Or maybe I get to.

I get to clean the toilet. Why? What makes this an honor? People used to have outhouses. People still do. There are people on this earth who have to walk outside their home every time they need to use the bathroom. I don’t. I just walk across the hall. That’s nice. If the price for this convenience is cleaning a toilet, I call that a win. I get to clean the toilet. I have limbs that allow me to do my own housework without the slightest difficulty. I get to clean the toilet. I can easily afford the cleaning products I need to use to do the job. I get to clean the toilet.

Worst case scenario, I choose to clean the toilet. Dirty toilets are gross. I don’t want one. I could live with one. I don’t have to clean it, but I choose to because, well, yuck.


The trouble with “I have to” is two-fold. First, it’s a lie. You never HAVE to. There’s an option, and there’s another option. Do or don’t. Now, maybe the consequences to don’t-ing are so significant that it doesn’t even seem like an option in your mind, but it still is one. You could choose it. (Sticking with the toilet cleaning as an example, have you seen your average bachelor’s apartment? You don’t HAVE to clean anything, toilets or otherwise…) (Average bachelor is definitely not a phrase I should use. My experience with the bachelor demographic is so minimal as to prevent my having a solid grasp of what constitutes ‘average.’ I guess I would be better off to say the ‘stereotypical’ bachelor’s apartment? But I’m so old and out of the loop, I don’t even know if that is still a working stereotype. Plus all the stereotypes are evil these days. Is Bachelor Archetype a thing? Like a spiritual movement of dudes who leave everything laying around their place and never clean the bathroom? I have no idea. Whatever. By this point I’m just going to have to assume you know what I mean and hope for the best if you don’t…)


Brother and I were not discussing cleaning toilets. We were discussing having a job. You have to. I have to. He has to.


Me – No. You don’t have to.

Brother – I do. I have a son. I have to.


Ah, and here we come to the second element in the ‘have to’ poison.


You get no credit for your choice if you have to.


When you are making a choice that feels like a ‘have to,’ it’s quite possible that you are making the choice because your personal integrity demands this choice for a good reason. In my Brother’s case, his desire to be a good father and provide for his son seems to mandate his holding a job where he might otherwise allow himself not to bother. That is a choice. It is a choice made from love. A respectable, even admirable choice. He should get credit for that. There’s no credit in ‘have to’. If you ‘have to’ get up and go to work every day because you have a kid, there’s no particular meaning in that. If you choose to get up and go to work every day because you love your son and you value him and your relationship with him and the things you are able to provide for him, there is considerable meaning and merit in your choice.

Maybe everyone doesn’t need that, but I do. I need to let myself see that I am choosing. That I am doing a good thing where a good thing is not forced out of me. I can respect that. Self-respect? Yes, please. Let’s not just give that away. Let’s not pretend we aren’t doing the thing because we choose to do the thing. We do. We choose.

On the other hand, “I have to” can also allow us to go on doing awful things without holding ourselves accountable. Maybe the job we are getting up and going to every day is actually a soul-shrinking, integrity-compromising life-suck. If we say “I have to,” we pretend that we are not responsible for that action, but that pretense does not change the fact that we are, in fact, accountable.

We can flip back and forth from one ‘have to’ to another, but they are all just as toxic for the same reason. ‘Oh my God! My job/relationship/family/home is a soul-shrinking, integrity-compromising life-suck!!! I HAVE TO QUIT!”

No. You don’t. You choose. I stay in, I get out. I show up, I don’t show up. I choose. Always. And I need to admit that to myself in every moment, because I want to give myself credit for the places where I make a respectable, generous, loving choice, and because I need to hold myself accountable where I make lazy, selfish, or otherwise ugly choices.


So that’s a thing.

The End.


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