Monday, March 1, 2010

more gifts my father gave me

When I was growing up, I had very unique relationships with each of my parents.

My mother presided over a nonprofit auxiliary board, while my dad and I tutored kids in the city. My mom and I browsed antiques stores, while my father took me to yard sales and encouraged me to dicker about prices (75 cents for a frog with a clock in its stomach? You must be out of your mind!). My mom gave me credit cards to shop for clothes; my dad gave me his old poker sweater to wear out on weekends.

Mom and I dressed up and went to nice restaurants for lunch. My dad and I went to bars to drink pitchers of beer and study race track forms, discussing the best ways to box horses, debating the merits of a muddy track and wondering out loud if one of us finally landed on a winning combination.

My dad and I still go to thrift stores sometimes, puzzling over which vintage lamp to buy for my bedroom. My mom studies books on feng shui and told me where to place my bed for peace and prosperity (though neither has happened so far).

My dad and I are alike in other ways, too. We’re doers; we have ideas, we talk about them and then we act upon them. And we’re both frustrated by the inability of talkers to follow up or follow through. Life is too short, my dad always tells me, and I agree. Both of my parents have told me often to live my life making the people I love happy, while making the most of my time on earth. And I think I’m doing a pretty good job.

I can talk to my dad about a lot of things that happened when I was young. Sometimes I even think he hears me. Every once in a while he’ll bring up some point I made, telling me how much it meant to him. It’s surprising, because we disagreed so much when I was younger. It took a long time for each of us to build up trust. It’s taken even longer to forgive. And we’re so quick to fall back into our old patterns. The patterns I hate; the patterns that made up so much of my childhood. We’re always careful around each other lest we give in to our old resentments.

But a long time ago, I decided to forgive my parents for every real or perceived wrongdoing. I think you can only go so far in life by blaming your parents for what’s gone wrong in your life. I also believe that at some point, you have to let all of your resentments go, in order to move on and move forward. I know now that my parents are just trying to get through life the best they can, just like we’re all trying to get through it too.

There are a lot of gifts my father gave me that I want to pass along to my own children some day. I want to take them camping in a remote wood high atop a mountain, eating fish for breakfast and bathing in ice cold streams. I want to show them bear tracks and bald eagles and how to dig for the best clams on the beach. Take them on road trips through the desert in cars without air conditioning. Tell them stories, of a passionate great-grandmother who supported the IRA and an even more passionate grandpop who believed in independent thinkers, taking a stand for what you believe in, embracing opportunities for risk and loving the people around you fiercely, and with your whole heart.

Each holiday and birthday I struggle over what gifts to give my parents. I’ve had old photos of them as a young couple restored and framed, given them gift certificates to favorite restaurants and taken them to the theater.

This year, I’m going to give my father another kind of gift. I’m going to tell my dad that I believe him when he makes a promise to me that I know he may not keep. I’m going to tell him that I miss him and I love him, and that I know he’s doing his best.

Somehow, I think he’ll like it.