As we get older, we gain perspective, if we open ourselves up to understanding and knowledge. It doesn’t always come readily or naturally.
Of course, one of the primary things you gain perspective about as you age is, well, aging. You grow older and people you know start dying. Friends. Family. Colleagues. Death is the ultimate giver of perspective.
You begin to appreciate the richness of the lives that have been voluntarily shared with you, and stop taking them for granted. And you start to understand that despite all of the things our parents might have done wrong by us, they got a lot of things right too.
I can’t complain about my childhood, as I grew up in a decidedly middle-class suburb in a university town, living a decidedly middle-class life. While I may have not gotten everything I wanted (for some reason, some of those memories never seem to leave us), I most certainly got everything I needed. Even if it was often a pair of hand-me down clothes from one of my older brothers. At least I had something different to wear.
As a child, I spent a lot of time outside, playing in the backyard, or over a friend’s house (often in their backyard). We were fearless, my friends and I, and roamed the seemingly-endless suburban neighborhood we called “home” at will. Our technology of choice at that time was GI Joes and bicycles. GI Joes were made for playing in the dirt, and bicycles were the primary form of transportation for kids like us (and still are, in the non-virtual world).
Who made such things possible — a home in the suburbs, GI Joes and bicycles? And more importantly, the freedom to explore and be a kid that such things bring (or at least encourage)?
While my mom eventually went back to work in a different career, it was my dad who did the 9 to 5 gig as an accountant in an office that you could’ve taken right out of the 1960s. It was the biggest treat in the world to visit my dad at his office, and one I only was able to enjoy a handful of times. It was very quiet in the office, as everyone was busy doing whatever it was they did there. My dad had his own office, and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Something about having your own office still, to this day, connotes status that a cubicle just can’t pull off.
My dad always seemed so very proud when one or more of his kids came to visit him in the office. He’d take us around and introduce us to his co-workers and boss, and he always seemed to lighten up and be very proud of us. My dad is inherently a kind, gentle soul who has a very social and engaging personality. But when growing up, we kids often didn’t see this side of him.
Of course, there wasn’t much for a kid to do in an office, so after letting me play with his cool electronic calculator (which had a paper roll!), we’d all usually go out to lunch, and I’d say goodbye to him when we returned to his office as we made the 45 minute journey back home.
It felt like my dad worked hard at his job, because I don’t remember a lot of interactions with him after work. He seemed tired a lot, and after dinner he would often take a short nap in his chair while reading the newspaper or what-not. I blamed the job for that, not him, and vowed never to work in a boring office job, sitting at a desk all day. (Yes, I get the irony.)
On the weekends, things were different. My dad came out of his work routine and played with us kids, and we as an entire family often did things together such as going to the local farmer’s market, going to a nearby park to play and have a picnic, or visit our grandparents who lived an eternity away by car — over 3 hours (which is an eternity for any kid, sorry).
But as a child, we simply take our parents for granted. We don’t know much about them or their personal lives, and understand only a small part of their personality and background. As we grow up, we start learning more and more about them. As I aged and my dad got involved in supporting the high school band, I saw more and more of him interact outside of the home. I really began to see and enjoy his socially-engaging personality (something I didn’t see much at home at all). Many of my friends would remark to me, “Wow, your dad is the coolest,” and I always thought to myself, “Really? My dad??! You must be mistaken.”
I later understood more of the reason my dad was the way he was at home — the marriage eventually fell apart when all of the kids were out of the house. Him and my mom battled over many things which took their inevitable toll on the relationship.
My dad has since remarried and retired, and lives within 5 miles of where I spent my childhood. His battle is no longer with any one person, but with Parkinson’s disease, something he’s been dealing with now for nearly a decade. I’ve spent far more time with my dad making new memories now than I think I did as a kid, and for that time and those memories, I am eternally grateful.
I’m thankful for my dad, for providing for us early on, allowing us to have all of the things a family needs in order to feel safe, secure and cared for. He provided us not only with the physical means of family, but also with a never-ending supply of love and pride of a dad for his sons and their achievements over the years. I am also thankful for the opportunity of getting to know him as a person over these past 20 years, and try to appreciate every moment I spend with him now, as such moments dwindle.
So thanks, Dad. I love you.
Happy Father’s Day!