Barbara: I was in Montreal last week and had the chance to spend some time with my father and stepmother. It was great. We strolled through the Botanical Gardens and ate food so delicious, it will colour my dreams for years to come.
The trip also became another chance for me to reflect on the wonderful good luck I’ve had when it comes to parents—and with Father’s Day just past, to acknowledge what an interesting and lovely man is my own. He who was rarely around in my growing years because of work and work-travel is now a manifestly connected and considerate dad with whom to commiserate. In truth, I never minded his business trips when I was young—I was very close to my mother and sisters and we kinda looked on his time away as a good excuse to Girls’ Night it up—no matter that we weren’t old enough for discos and gin tonics, we rallied with fast food burgers and late night TV.
So, as an adult, it’s been a very sweet development to get to know my father. And he constantly surprises and delights me with his intuitive wisdom. Like the other day on our visit, he tells me that he and my stepmom were just realizing that my husband and I had now entered into one of the best phases of adulthood: the time after your kids are grown and before you’re too old to be sidelined by physical constraints. Now, before I go on, I just want to say: it’s not my intention to nyah-nyah those of you who are still in the thick, or to discourage those of you who haven’t yet started that part of your life-journey, but to clasp arms with those of us on the other side so we can tell you, “Yeah, it was exhausting and wonderful and crazy and stressful—sometimes beyond words—but there comes a time when your job is done and you can let go and sit back and abscond responsibility from other people’s life choices.”
It’s a cutting of the apron strings from the other side of the old cliché. We let go because we have to and because it doesn’t matter anymore what we say because the kids are fully cooked and will do whatever they damn well please. And there is something so liberating about that. When the kids were babies, on sleepless nights my husband would moan with complete conviction that our children would never, ever, ever sleep through the night or poop in the toilet. Well, he was wrong on both counts. And of course, we knew that one day our kids wouldn’t need us anymore, but in the long moments between birth and maturity that concept seemed/felt unfathomable. And then one day, they didn’t. Like overnight. Both of them still at home, but fully cooked and independent and apron-less. And I get to enjoy them, counsel them, worry about them––but I don’t get to handhold them anymore. So now my hands are free to pick and choose. It’s a curious feeling. But I know that’s what my Dad meant.
I also realize that this is why it took for me to reach adulthood to finally be privy to his gems—I think he was saving this precious stuff for when it would be welcome as conversation … and not shunned as lecture.
Deb: So much of what you had to say resonated with me, although from a slightly different angle as you know. We have been empty nesters for two years now and have had a huge taste of what you speak of. Most of the time, except for holidays, there is no boy in the house at all. So we are thrilled to have created a friendship with him before he left, as I know you have with your girls. As a result of this friendship, we find ourselves decidedly not guilty about enjoying this “new” couple before us. The couple that is into going to a Jazz Festival on a Tuesday night! Where did they come from? And when we see the boy, the time is rife with quality because we are such friends and really enjoy each other.
If you had told me when the boy was 2, 5, 9,12 and even 17 that it would feel this right for him and for us, I would have never believed you. The day we left him in another country to go to school and watched him walk away from us was a sting in our hearts I will never forget. He let go of our hands and walked in one direction and we grabbed on to each other’s and walked in the other. In that very moment, it felt different … and nice.
Barb, I have had a similar joy with my Dad lately but for different reasons, as you also well know. He is having some health issues and at 83 has needed my frequent help. What I discovered through these excursions we take from groceries to drugstores, to specialists appointments, etc, is that I treasure this time with him. It has been challenging given his lack of mobility, but this reversal waltz we have been doing has been an unexpected pleasure. It has further illustrated to me what an amazing human he is. And as I just wrote in his Father’s Day card, I am still learning gorgeous life lessons that, as you say, Barb, are not even couched in lecture any more. We are two loving adults sharing wisdom, history, and deep respect. My time with him could be summed up as grateful time. We are just so happy to be here together right now.