“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes, they forgive them.” ~Oscar Wilde
My father is 90. I flew to Michigan recently to visit him. He needed cheering up after a mild heart attack and a stint in the hospital. He uses a walker now. While there, I shared lunches and dinners with him and the other residents at his assisted living facility (the most beautiful one in the world). Before or after mealtimes, I took him for rides in my rented Yaris.
Dad spent childhood summers in the area on property his grandfather purchased on a hill above Crystal Lake, not far from Lake Michigan. Dad brought us kids there every summer, as well. One of the family’s favorite places for sunsets on Lake Michigan is Point Betsie. One afternoon, our father/daughter excursion took us along Crystal Lake, toward the main road that leads to Point Betsie. I wasn’t sure how long he wanted to be in the car, so after the long stretch of road along the south shore of Crystal, I said, “I’ll just turn around here and we can go back and get a different perspective.” He spoke right up and pointed toward Route 31. “Can’t we go see…Lake Michigan?” “You want to go to Pt. Betsie?” “Yeah!” The roles had definitely reversed. I agreed, turned onto the main road, and drove several miles to Pt. Betsie. Since it was mid-March, not a single car or person was in sight. I pulled the car right up to the opening in the sand dune where we could watch the waves crash up on shore. We sat for a while until I told him I was just going to get out to take a picture on my cell phone to send to my sister. It was cold and windy, so this would be quick. No sooner than I got out of the car, I saw my dad get out of the car! I quickly got his walker out for support. With his arm hooked in mine, he proceeded to walk off the pavement and onto the sand. I knew where he was headed. I had to go with it, though I feared with every frail step that he would fall, and we were alone, and far away from help. I could feel how important this was to him, walker, wind and all. I watched his every step until he reached his favorite bench.
His spirit to continue to embrace life impressed me. At 90, he still has the drive to go forward and reach his goals. This spirit lives in me as a gift that he has passed down. He was not a perfect father; there is no such thing. He had a way of brushing off my childhood excitement with a simple, “Ok” and look away as if to say, “That’s enough.” He didn’t realize he was quieting my voice in the world. It worked for a long time. Now with tables turned, I model for him what it means to support and celebrate someone’s passion and drive. And I quietly thank him for instilling that drive in me.
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