My father was younger than I am now when he died. It will be thirty years ago in another few days. A single-car accident. They say he was killed instantly. I remember getting the dreadful call. I remember not feeling much of anything. That's not an indictment of him or our relationship. Although we'd certainly had our differences. I'd just never received such a call before. I just remember being numb.
I think all parent-child relationships are problematic. How can they not be? Parents see their kids as extensions of themselves and kids see their parents as impediments to their thirst for autonomy...even if they don't really know what that means. The whole parent-child dance is about hanging on and letting go. On both sides. Trouble is, each side is ready at different times. But, somehow we make it through. And, if we're lucky, we manage to take all the upheaval of that love-hate relationship and look back with a kinder eye. However it felt at the time, we all did the best we knew how to do. And, in hindsight, we'd all do it differently.
I often wonder what my Dad would be like now. He'd be just over 81. I wonder if he would have found some inner peace in the past thirty years. He always seemed to have a seed of discontent about him. Like he was hungry for something he couldn't quite name. He read a lot. U.S. News and World Report. He watched the news. He had some pretty specific views of what ailed this world.
He also had a great smile. I remember days and days of summer fun. Water skiing. He chided me when I was first learning. I'd feel the tug of the tow rope and let go. "Don't let go, let the boat pull you up," he instructed me. So, I didn't let go. But, the boat didn't pull me up. I drank a lot of water that day.
A few years after Dad died I had a dream about him. It was short, but I remember every detail. We stood side by side in a long empty school corridor. Student lockers lined one side of the hallway. They were forest green and vented. Their doors were closed, but not locked. The lockers went on for as far as the eye could see. Hundreds of them - vanishing into the distance.
Dad turned to me - he seemed peaceful, at last. He pointed to the never-ending row of lockers and said, "In each one of these is a part of me you never knew."
And then the dream ended.
Now, as an adult, I gaze back and realize that I really didn't know him. He was Dad. I was a kid. What do kids know of parents? We don't know their hopes and their fears. We don't know their experiences and why they see the world as they do. We don't know who they were before we arrived. Or who they always hoped they'd be.
Some of you still have Dad around. And Mom too, not to leave her out of the picture. Some of you still have time to find out what's behind some of those locker doors. It would probably surprise you... and possibly change the parent you've constructed in your head. You could find yourself in a completely different relationship.
We don't open our locker doors for others to see inside. It's not for us to do. These doors open at the hands of those who want to know. Who are willing to admit that they might have a narrow picture of the one they think they know so well. Those who want to change the dance and look with eyes that can see beyond childhood myopia.
Each and every day we have a chance to rediscover our relationships and redefine our pasts. We know so little of those we are closest to. We all hide so much. What a loss. Maybe, before we sit with just a memory, we can set aside what we think we know to find out who Dad or Mom really is. And maybe, just maybe, we can learn who we are too. Perhaps that is all we are really here to do.