Frustrated to hear this yet again, I did as I was told, biting my tongue. My mother always taught to be respectful to my elders, but sometimes he made it impossible.
“And don’t forget to put a stamp on the envelope.”
As I sucked in a deep breath, I released an exasperated sigh looking into my father’s blue eyes. “Dad, I’m nearly 60 years old. How do you think I’ve gotten this far without your help?”
Pausing for a moment, his impish Irish grin began to spread across his face as he wrapped his gnarled fingers around my hand, winked, and said, “Sorry, I can’t help myself. You’ll always be my little girl.”
Tucking my 96-year-old father into bed that night, I studied his aged face of unbridled love and thought to myself, “I wonder if he’s ever going to let me grow-up?”
Long ago a brilliant and inquisitive mind set my dad on a course to be an authority on nearly every subject. Math being one of his finest powers. I, on the other hand, skipped through life by the seat of my hot pink pants. I had to taste, touch, feel, and dance my way through a subject in order to learn anything.
My dad knew that academic learning and I were never good friends, so instructed me time-and-time again, “Jackie, if you’d just do what I tell you to do, you’ll be successful.”
Successful? Who cared about something so vague at 7-years-old in the mid-1950’s? Besides, instinctively I knew that was a lifetime away. All I ever wanted was to be one with nature- hanging from a tree, picking flowers or finding a body of water to splash around in. Talk about a thriving life! Fortunately for both of us, I finally did come to understand the wisdom of his tutelage and took heed.
When I began to listen to his advice, I found it was much better to drive on the on the right side of the road and follow the speed limit if I wanted to stay on a friendly basis with the local police.
As I entered the business world, I did as he instructed and soon discovered I could scale the corporate ladder if I worked hard, proved to be punctual, polite to my superiors, and dressed in a professional manner. It wasn’t always just about brains, but the entire package.
But his greatest example for a flourishing life was lined in the supple cashmere jacket of his rich Catholic faith. Not only did it make him deeply moral, respectful, kind, and honest, but in these last years of his life, it has been a blessing and a warm comfort. For most of my life, Catholicism was a spiritual seminar I found myself waffling, but now, because of his shining example, I’ve decided to re-enroll in a second course to find my own way back to God.
Old thought processes and life roles can be hard to transition out of. In his heart, I’ll forever be that exuberant child with strawberry blonde ponytails that bounced merrily as I skipped behind his every move. But, I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll never be allowed to become an adult in my father’s eyes. Each time he tells me when to check the oil in my car or how to lick an envelope; I know it comes from his need to be useful, to still have a purpose, and his deep love for his child. For no matter how old he becomes, he’ll always be the father and I, daddy’s little girl.
I believe as we age, the need to feel secure in a place we once treasured becomes ever more demanding. When my children come home for a visit, I pray they bring their laundry and that they’ll let me do it. For an hour or two, I travel back in time when my life’s purpose was making everything right in the world. Now, that job belongs to them. Like our parents before us, as long as we’re living we will do the same to our children – whether they like it or not! What are some of your stories?