Life is funny.
My youngest starts high school in the fall. It feels like a big step– it’s my final rodeo before being an empty nester. Where did the time go? I swear I was just a new mom, all cute and perky and ready to produce the greatest kids in the world. Hit the fast-forward button. A quick peek in the mirror now shows my face older (or is it wiser?), my boobs droopier (they did their job and fed my kids well) and my perkiness a little less perky (except for after a few vodka lemonades). My kids are great, imperfectly perfect, and can pretty much fend for themselves. They need me, but they don’t need me the way they used to. They seem so independent and autonomous, and while this makes me happy it also makes me mourn. Parenting now is more about setting boundaries and keeping attitudes in check than it is about kissing boo-boo’s or making snacks. It’s feels more about being a judge, a cheerleader, a chef, an ATM and an advice giver than it is about being a Mommy. The roles have switched–I’m hungry for time together and they are hungry for freedom.
Where this gets funny is that just when I thought my parenting job was weening, I find myself sitting in the surgery center as my dad has reconstructive face surgery for basal cell carcinoma they found on his face. These last four days of helping and nurturing him through this process has opened my eyes on how much older he is, and how our roles have switched as well. I’m protecting him and he’s leaning on me to guide him through these upsetting moments. I feel more like the parent and he is more like a small child: scared, unsure, and needing constant reassurance. I’m convinced, the hardest part of growing up is realizing my parents are growing old.
The lens on him looks so different today. He seems more fragile and brittle to me. The man who once held me now needs me to hold his hand. The man who once comforted me now needs me to tell him it’s going to be okay. The man who chauffeured me around town, now needs me to drive him because he doesn’t like driving on the freeway or at night. The man showed me the ropes needs me to explain things to him. The man who loved me unconditionally now needs the same love back. The man who guided me now looks to me to be his lighthouse.
This whole circle of life thing is not for the faint at heart. The end of one journey is the beginning of the next. It’s difficult, sobering and heartbreaking. We take on new roles and the reversal is a hard adjustment. I have accepted I am not his dictator, but I am his advocate. I am not his boss, but I am his advisor. I am not his therapist, but I am his sounding board. I am not his parent, but I am his partner.
I know aging is a fact of life but seeing your own parents age somehow feels different. My dad has fought off Father Time with the best of them. He rails against old age. He continues to work to this day because he believes that it keeps him alive and moving. He talks about plans to travel and still has a long bucket list. Like my kids, he values his independence and freedom. He is spritely and spirited with a hilarious sense of humor. He’s a warrior, a fighter, a survivor, a Vietnam vet. He has adapted, made the best of what life has given him and stays connected to his grandkids because they make him feel young. I want my dad to live forever, but sadly, Time is undefeated.
It’s a weird dynamic to think that my children are just beginning their lives and parents are starting to end theirs. I feel like this chapter in my life is about letting go, and it sucks. I want to hold on and to stop time. I want to grab a hold of my parents and my kids and demand they both stop aging, demand they stay safe and healthy and demand they never leave me. I want to tuck them all away, so they stay with me forever.
But life doesn’t work like that. I am forced to surrender to what is. I must let go of what was. I must have faith in what will be. I must pull my big girl pants on and be brave to face what lies ahead. I must love on my family—all of them—while they are still here. I must make time for those I love, and I must accept that change happens whether we like it or not. Dammit.
Life is messy but also beautiful. Helping my dad is an honor, a gift and something I’m so happy to do. He’s my father, my Dad, and my friend. I will care for him because he has been a great parent and he has cared for me. I will thank him for making me believe anything is possible. I will be grateful that he is proud of me, regardless of my successes or my failures. I will hold his hand and walk beside him. I will face what lies ahead with bravery and courage because he modeled bravery and courage. We will do this chapter together.
Father’s Day is about so more than a day, it is about a life and a love. The circle of life is the circle that joins us. Our circle is unbreakable. Our circle defines us. Our circle of strength grows as we enter this next leg of this journey. Our circle makes me my fathers daughter. Our circle will never end. Our circle joins us through memories and moments but most importantly, through love.
Happy Father’s Day Dad!!