15 October 2013

of my father, for my father

I turn another year older on Thursday. Birthdays tend to fill me with nostalgia and this nostalgia is amplified by my birthday falling in the middle of autumn. I kick up maple leaves as I walk home from the library and even the air seems to whisper of the unrelenting passing of time.
Today for whatever reason, the memories beating through my head all relate to time spent with my dad, so I will write about him. Three memories in particular come to mind when I think of the past 24 years and my father. The first one is more a series of memories than a particular occurrence, the second one is a day I can’t think of without smiling, and the third is a moment that completely transformed my attitude about life.
Throughout my childhood, my dad spent one Tuesday each month driving to the state capitol to meet with a state board representing home education. My parents cared so much about giving my siblings and me an ample and enjoyable education, and it made me proud that my dad cared about the other kids too. I don’t remember when it began, but at some point Dad decided to bring me along with him to sit in on the meeting, and I remember feeling so important and special and I pitied my brothers who had to stay home. Simply attending the council was not the full extent of these adventures. Dad would also bring me to Borders. THE BIGGEST BOOK STORE IN THE WHOLE WORLD (in my eyes, at least). I would run to the kids section in the back of the store, and look for the latest Saddle Club book or pull out my list of Newberry Award winners that I was working my way through. Dad would always let me get a book, or maybe two, and then we’d go to the meeting and I’d read my books and listen to the important people talk and then Dad and I would get dinner before we went home.  If someone told me to conjure up a happy image from my childhood, I would picture myself sitting in the back of the Concord Borders surrounded by books with my dad a few aisles over. I reveled in that time together, just me and him.
The second memory is from when I was 15 years old and my family took a road trip through the southwest. My brother and I were teenagers and thought sleeping in the back of the car with our Walkmans was the only acceptable way to travel through one of the most geologically rich areas of our country. (Yes, all teenagers are stupid.)  It was a week into our trip and my dad excitedly shook my brother and me awake at Bryce Canyon National Park. He begged us to get out of the car and “Just loooook at this place, guys! You won’t see this every day! This is reaaally something incredible!” My indifference directly opposed my dad’s excitement as I sulked out of the car and walked over to the trail head. But whoa, he was right, it really was pretty cool. The rocks towered up like the dribble towers we would make at the beach and glowed a near fluorescent orange in the late afternoon sun. I showed just enough enthusiasm as I deemed acceptable, but when Dad tried to convince me to hike down into the canyon, I asked myself if I too would be so crazy when I was old. He besought and beseeched and before I knew it we were at the bottom of the canyon looking up at scenery like something straight out of an HG Wells novel. I was tired, the sun was setting, and we still had to hike up a pretty hairy looking switchback. By now, I knew my father was regretting taking on such an ambitious hike so late in the day, and I exploited his uncertainty for all it was worth. I told him Mom was going to be pissed at him when we got to the top. I told him she probably thought we were dead and he was going to be in big trouble.  I told him I was feeling weak and probably wouldn’t make it. I demanded multiple apologies. And so we trucked along, one foot in front of another. The sky grew darker and the path cleared of hikers. I cursed myself for being so easily convinced, “Why do I ever listen to you, Dad? Seriously, do you ever think before you make us do these things?!” I stopped to catch my breath on the trail and Dad put his arm around me, and smiled. He pointed at the moon that took up half the sky and said, “I might not always think through these things, Bird, but you know what? You’ll never forget this moment as long as you live. Just look around you. You’ll never ever forget this.” And you know what? I don’t think I ever will. I guess Dad is right about some things.
The last of the memories is harder for me to write about. It was my 20th birthday and I was falling apart in my parents’ living room. After a few years of feeling happy and in control of things and believing myself to be a “real adult”, I was depressed. It had been months since I felt like myself. My head had started to replay anxious thoughts from years ago. I couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing. I would have a day where I thought maybe the shadows were beginning to lift and then they’d come again, darker than before. I cried a lot for no reason, but never in front of my family. I didn’t want them to know I was weak enough to have reverted back to the helpless little girl I had been before. I would take my anger and my moods out on my little sister because I knew she couldn’t abandon me.
                  And then it was my 20th birthday, and my mom gave me a new coat. And the coat was too big, and I fell apart in my parents’ living room. I don’t remember everything they said that day. I’m sure they were all the right things you should say when your daughter sits helpless in the living room on a day meant for celebrating. They told me I needed to talk to someone when I felt like this, and not keep it bottled in. They apologized for not being more aware and my mom cried and I cried and my Dad looked so sad. That day was a turning point for my depression, and I did feel better again and there were many people that I’m grateful to for helping me out of the hole I was in. But above all, I thank my dad. He sat in that living room and told me that I was not alone- in fact, I was just like him, and he didn’t sugarcoat anything. By no means was this the first time Dad helped me through a rough patch, but it was the first time we spoke so candidly together as adults, and something really clicked. Dad told me that people like him and I were as strong as the rest, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t ask for help sometimes. He told me about times he had felt just like I was feeling (periods I was blissfully unaware of because I was just a little girl going on adventures with her daddy). He told me that my moods were something that would always be there, and would follow me through life and into whatever relationships I end up in, and that was something I needed to accept or I would be their slave. And you know what? Those words changed everything because they helped me to acknowledge myself and my mind for what it is and to begin the steps towards managing it. And really, this story isn’t about my experiences with depression or my father’s, but more about that first conversation where I saw my father as someone more than just my dad. He was a compadre, a like-mind, someone who understood… And he helped me to understand the importance of speaking up and relying on one other. We weren’t meant to do this alone.
                  So I turn 24 on Thursday. And I’m not really sure what the next year will bring but I know it will be OK. (How couldn’t it be, with a dad like that?) Every time someone tells me I look and act just like my father, I roll my eyes, but in reality I couldn’t be more proud of the comparison. Isn’t it funny how your relationship with your parents evolves along like everything else in life? In many ways, it grows richer as the years goes by. The memories build one on top of another, and I see my father change, and I see myself change, but yet in some ways I am still the little girl in the bookstore. I sit here wide-eyed and grateful for the time I get to spend with such a humble and loving man, and I smile when I catch myself doing something so much like him.  

So thanks, Dad. Your Bird loves you even more each year.  

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