My father and I drove from Arizona to the Northwest last week and we are now enjoying a relaxed week together along with my daughter and her husband. I am grateful for the opportunity to spend whatever time I can with family. I think that, as we get older, our appreciation for our children and parents expands. At the same time, I can also see that I can become ‘stuck’ in a kind of ‘family-get-together-pattern’. Not that this is bad, but it is different than how I might normally spend a week at home and we definitely have different conversations than I have with my friends.
I am certain this has more to do with me than my father or daughter, but it is interesting to see that I feel ‘less myself’ when I am in this setting. Let me give you an example. I never watch TV at home or even when I am traveling, except for the occasional movie or news show. We’ve been watching TV a lot these last few days. On one level, this seems to me to be taking away from our time together and on the other hand, that is just how we’re spending some of our time. Another example is in a conversation about social policy, I find that I am not only less logical and articulate than I might normally be, but I also ‘walk on eggshells’ to avoid strong disagreement. Mostly I feel powerless and frustrated that I can’t persuade them or at least have them acknowledge the validity of my arguments. Shame on me!
I am reminded of a renowned Jungian psychologist (whose name escapes me) who was once quoted as saying that “When I get off the plane I am a PhD, author and world famous expert—but when I walk into the door of my parents’ house, I become a six-year-old boy”. It is interesting how our family can know us so well and still push all our buttons to remind us that we still have a lot more to learn.
I have been talking to my Dad about the death of my mother and he seems absolutely okay with his life. He accepts her death, along with the deaths of many of his friends, as just a normal aspect of living—sort of like the weather—“Oh, so and so died today, looks like it might rain.” As a son, I would like to think that I have grown past wanting or needing his approval and confidence, but I can still see little niggles from my childhood. The fact is that he is very interested and appreciative of not only what is happening in my life, but also the lives of my children. He is just of a generation that was not very open or expressive of their feelings and assumed that, if it was important for you to know how they felt, then you’d just ‘know it’. His generation mastered ‘just hanging out together’ long before it was the preferred pastime of today’s youth.
My oldest daughter and I, on the other hand, are at the other end of the spectrum. We express everything we think or feel and are explicit to the point of not leaving much to the imagination. I am not saying one way of being is better or worse than the other. However, I think it is important to acknowledge that different generations can express their love and feelings differently. What is most important is to realize the love and the feelings transcend the generations.
As I have shared in these posts before, I, like most parents, am proud of my children and, as I grow older, I am learning more and more from them about life and about myself. I could say the same about my relationship with my father. He has always held my respect and admiration and as he approaches his 90th birthday, he is also becoming my friend and my teacher—again.
I asked him to share what he would want his grandchildren to learn from his experience of living. He replied, “I’d pass along two pieces of wisdom my Dad passed on to me. If you can’t afford to pay for it, then you don’t need it. And don’t take the Lord’s name in vain”. As far as I can tell, he has lived his life with extraordinary integrity, has always lived within his means and I can’t recall every hearing him swear.
Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Cindy.