I’m one of those people who had a great dad, and believe me, I know how lucky I am. During my growing up years and after, he was a strong and steady presence in our family and in my life. Dad was a positive thinker before positive thinking was popular. He was quiet and humble but had a great sense of humor and steel-blue eyes that twinkled when cracking one of his dry jokes.
Dad was always content. Dad always knew the right thing to do. Dad didn’t have any problems. Well, at least this was my innocent, childhood perspective.
After a few years of navigating adult life and having become a parent myself, I developed more realistic insights into the world of adults. The reality that dad wasn’t just my dad but was his own person, took greater hold in my understandings. And although as a child I assumed he had “Life” all figured out, as an adult with my own struggles and disappointments, I realized that dad had probably had them, too. In spite of this growing awareness, it wasn’t until one day in my fifties that I became suddenly and more acutely aware of what life was probably like, for dad.
On this day, my young granddaughter and I had gone for a fun, one-on-one outing of shopping and errands. While driving along and chatting, the topic of conversation found its way to my dad, the great-grandpa she’d never had the chance to meet. Upon thinking of how to describe him, I decided to provide an overview of what I saw as the highlights, or major events, of his life. She listened attentively. As I shared his story, listing events one after the other, I realized that many of the things he had experienced would be considered, by most, to be traumatic. The passing of his father whom he adored, when my dad was not yet 13 years of age. As a result, his being sent from his home state of Arizona to live with older relatives in California and his trying to create a life there in spite of being a painfully shy teenager. His serving in the Navy during World War II and while at sea, receiving a “dear John” letter from his first wife. Of course, I had to explain to my granddaughter that this was all before text messaging, email, or any way in which he could quickly get in contact with his wife. I continued on with his story (there was more) and then it all hit me - there in the CVS parking lot - that my dad, my positive-thinking Rock of Gibraltar, had actually had a very hard beginning to his life. Upon this realization, I couldn’t help but start crying. (So much for the fun in this outing!) “Grandma?” my granddaughter asked, “Are you all right?”
When I was a child, I just had no idea of all the things that dad had already faced down in his life. Eventually he met my mom, began raising our family and worked hard to establish his own sheet metal business. In spite of this stability, life’s challenges didn’t just magically disappear. There were still problems to deal with and battles to be fought that, as a child, I had little understanding or concept of.
But now, of course, I can see the more complete picture. I’m aware that although it seemed he always knew the right thing to do, I’m sure there were moments when he was winging it. Just like me. Though his countenance was frequently serene, surely there were moments, in his quiet introspection, when he felt sad, lonely or haunted by the past. And although it seemed to me that dad was almost always happy and had no problems, I know now that dad had no shortage of problems.
This more realistic view of my childhood and my dad’s life doesn’t make me sad. In fact, it gives me great comfort and provides me with inspiration for my life today. The comfort comes in knowing that if dad was able to face hard things with such grace, so can I. If he could make winging it look so good, hopefully, so can I. If he was able to be an example of strength and comfort in spite of what surely must have been his own insecurities, I am inspired to try to do the same. Like dad, I sure don’t have this thing called life figured out, but between what I’ve learned from my own experiences and lessons from both my parents, I’ve got what I need to keep working on it.
Cindy works as an employment development counselor and is a mother and grandmother. She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.