I’ve been a son now for nearly 60 years, and a father for just 22. Yet I feel like I’m doing so much better at the latter than the former.
That was hardly the case when son entered the world and my focus for the first few weeks was his survival. But today, he is just a few months from entering the real world as a college graduate and my fatherhood skills are relegated to small loans and largely ignored political opinions.
Which is fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
As good as I feel as a father, I’m disappointing myself as a son. My inadequacies became apparent on a recent trip home to see my 90-year-old father.
It used to be so easy to be my dad’s son
He was always there, whether helping me with homework or playing the various Nerf-ball games that kept us laughing on weekends. I’ll never forget how he stalked off when I told him I was driving to Colorado to search for a job. Or how he handed me an envelope with $600 the morning I left, saying, “I don’t always agree with your choices, but I’ll always support you.”
Instead of remembering that father during my visit, I was annoyed by the current one, the dad who sat for hours watching TV news, who had no tolerance for handheld devices, who asked the same questions over and over.
It wasn’t until the last day of my visit when I delved deep, asking him questions revealing fears he had tried to hide. He, too, was annoyed and frustrated with the person time had forced him to become.
“It kills me,” he said, “that I can’t do what I used to do.”
Dad admitted he is ready to go
He said he had wished for that shortly after my mom — his wife of 62 years — died four years ago.
For me, it was a rare look into the heart of the man who made me who I am. He had always kept secret his feelings, except his love for his family.
I left with a much better understanding of my father and, I hope, with more patience for his eccentricities.
I also was struck by how the complexities of childhood and fatherhood are inversely proportional with age.
I’ve already shared that realization with my own son, who I hope will be more accepting when time steals from me what it takes from everyone.
And when I call my father, as I do almost every day, we will end the conversation the same way, with a “love you.”
Hearing that is a gift, now more than ever.