I don’t know if he realizes that or not, and I’m sure it isn’t his plan, but I think it’s true nonetheless.
I’ve said for a long time that life is too short to learn from only your own mistakes and decisions, and that’s a piece of it. I’ve also said for a long time that you can’t choose you can’t choose what the universe throws in front of you, only how you react to it, and that’s a piece of things, too.
The life he’s led has not always been easy one, and in some ways he’s paid the price that physically, and some ways mentally or emotionally. He has made his own choices all the way along. We all do. I expect that the vast majority of those choices were what he thought was right or necessary at the time. Some of those choices have been harder on his body than they needed to be, then he needed to be. Closing in on 75 years old, his health is not everything it could be, and the diagnosis a few years back of COPD did not really make any improvements. I understand difficulty in quitting smoking, and shared it closing on 18 years ago, but not after nearly so long at it, and I had the luxury of growing up in a time when there was always more information available than the day before. That really wasn’t the case in the same way during his formative years.
But that second piece, the choosing of how you react things, is also in the mix here, and probably a whole lot more. He’s picking the stubborn path, meeting what the universe is throwing at him in terms of his health and bending only as much as he has to so he can continue to live the way he chooses to. An oak tree.
He’s also choosing to live with regrets, and whether anyone else can see it or not, I can see those in him every time I go to visit. He knows how some of his choices have affected the people he cares deeply about, his family. Rather than trying to address those, reconcile them, and forgive himself, he’s swallowing them, stuffing them down as far as he possibly can and letting everyone be who they are. I’m not sure who all knows just how much he’s not dealing with things. I suspect I only have a small idea. I suspect there’s a lot more to it.
He’s also showing me potential glimpses into the future. We are a lot alike, although we are not the same person. We did not grow up in the same time, or in the same kind of places, and we did not make the same choices. When he was 48, I was 22, and I didn’t really seem a lot because I was in school. When I saw him, he was still presenting as the strong man that I grew up with. Over the next few years, and through scattered visits over time, I would slowly discover what most sons eventually discover about their fathers. There comes a moment when you realize that you are better, stronger, faster than your father at most things that aren’t a direct result of their specialties. And it is one of the saddest days of your life.
It’s also a too jarring reminder of the march of time and of your own mortality.
Make no mistake, there’s still a ridiculous number of things that he knows far more about than I do, but I can recognize some of what age has stolen.
I was a couple of years older when my son was born than dad was at my birth. But 46 and 48 are not too different. Measured against his father, there was a much larger gap, but dad was the youngest of seven. Pop lived to eighty-four with, a life filled with harder choices, and some of them, to my eyes, almost deliberately destructive. Did dad use that same measuring tape at some point? Does he still?
I’m not my father, but I certainly have those thoughts very, very often. I don’t need to be remembered by anyone other than my family, really. Beyond that, if I leave some stories behind for people to enjoy, that’s great, but what I really want is to leave enough good memories for my children to carry them through after I’m gone.
I hope I have inherited my father’s stubbornness, and I know I’ve inherited some of the desire for frequent solitude, but I am my own person, and I make my own choices. I love my father, but I do still find it difficult to talk to him sometimes. I don’t think I should, but that’s my problem. He’s still teaching me things, still setting examples. Sometimes those are examples I want to follow and sometimes they’re not, but there’s one I do like, for sure.
To steal a line, do not go gently into that good night. He will continue to not go gently for as long as he can, I think, and he does recognize what his eventual departure from life will mean to others. He may or may not recognize anything resembling the full extent of the impact to his children and grandchildren. None of us do, probably, but that too, in a lot of ways, is part of the human experience. Growing up, growing old, losing people, being lost.
I love you, Dad. I hope someday I’m able to effectively tell you. Whether day that comes or not, I hope I demonstrate it at least a little, and I hope you do know it.
Be well, everyone.by