Yesterday was the first Father’s Day without my dad. It was met with mixed emotions. Of course, I am glad that he isn’t suffering through all that he was experiencing in the last few years, but selfishly, I was certainly missing him tremendously. Although we were supposed to go to Williamsburg to spend the afternoon with my family over there, it was too much for me to deal with as I continued to navigate through my own grief and emotion.
As I spent time on the computer yesterday afternoon, I came to it while the screen saver was on, showing pictures from our hard drive. A picture popped up of my dad and my oldest son on a ride at a carnival. The one drawback of this kind of screensaver is that it’s hard to locate the picture that you just saw, at least for me. I don’t know of a way to easily get to it unless you have a pretty good idea when it was taken, which I kind of did. So, I went on a search.
After a few minutes, success, I found it. I did a little editing to get a close-up view of the two of them together. The faces of the both of them tell a story. My son’s face has a look of sheer delight. He looks overjoyed to be on the ride. His mouth is a gape as they ride this simple, little roller coaster. He was barely 3 years old and everything he experienced was new and different, the first time. I’m sure this was one of those times.
My dad’s face tells a different story. As I looked closer at his face, I realized that I had seen that look a thousand times before. It was one of those faces that said, “I’m going to pretend that I am enjoying myself, but inside, I’m scared as hell.” Not everybody who knew my dad knew that face, but I had seen it enough and I knew him well enough to be able to decipher that those were most likely his emotions. He wasn’t big on moving rides, especially adventurous ones. I can’t quite remember why I wasn’t with him that day other than the fact that I might have been taking a nap at their house. Regardless, he was elected to take the ride with his grandson, and he did it.
It might not seem like a big deal, but for him, anything that was different or scary was a challenge. Dad didn’t like change and as much as he had once had dreams of being a pilot, heights and roller coasters were not his forte. He preferred to stand with both feet firmly planted on the ground with as little jerky movement as possible. This was a big deal for him to make the sacrifice for his grandson, and the day that it happened, I missed it.
In fact, the picture was taken nearly four years ago, and it was only yesterday that I discovered it. How appropriate though, to discover it on Father’s Day, the first one without him. It was also appropriate that my dad and his grandson were together. You see, while my son struggles some times to try new things, he’s come a long way in his six and a half years. He assesses the situation and then decides whether it’s worth the risk. If it’s not, he just won’t try it, until his mom and I prod him along.
Once upon a time, my dad was six and a half years old. Once upon a time, he encountered adventures and risky situations and had to make the decision as to whether or not to jump in or to turn away and be safe. His father, however, was not around much (and eventually at all) for him to prod and push my dad to embrace that sense of adventure. Eventually, Dad learned to embrace the safety of the familiar. Eventually, Dad learned that risk was scary and not something to be bothered with, it was too uncomfortable, too unknown, too unfamiliar.
I don’t think that I can really blame him. He did what he knew best to do, just as I have done, and just as my children will do. What will I teach them? Will I teach them to risk? It’s better to try and fail than never to have tried at all. Much better to get into the ring and get knocked out than to simply give instructions from the outside without ever having experienced it yourself. Most of our lessons are learned not from our accomplishments but from the failures that lead up to the accomplishments.
As I look at my kids, I realize the influence that I have on them, not only by what I say and do but also by what I don’t say and don’t do. Sins of commission and sins of omission. What am I leaving out? What am I neglecting to do that will make a difference?
All that from a picture? Yup. They say that a picture’s worth a thousand words. Next time you look at a picture, see what you can get out of it.