This was originally posted in June of 2011, four months before my dad died. Not surprisingly, the prayer I offered for him at the end of this piece was never answered.
I see a lot of myself in Dad. He’s always been a Glass Half Empty kind of guy, his thoughts and opinions naturally traveling down the darkest highway. A card-carrying pessimist, his words of wisdom to us kids punctured any hope we might have had. If we complained about doing our chores, he would say, “There are a lot of things in this world you have to do whether you want to or not” or “Get used to it, life is hard.”
Since the time I was in high school, I’ve listened to him bemoan every change in his aging body, never at peace with the natural adjustments any adult male has to make, never able to reconcile himself to the thirty-five year old he thinks he still should be.
I understand this fantasy thinking. I understand the draw of the past and refusing to live in the present. I’ve traveled his dark highway and know all the shortcuts. I’ve watched my dad sit at the Table of Life and accept only scraps, convinced that’s all that’s being served. He prides himself on being fun-loving, but his jokes and teasing carry a sharp edge that has more to do with defense than humor. My dad was never a teacher, never had the patience to explain, but I learned his road map well.
When I’m with my dad, I try to poke holes in his perception, counter the negativity with perspective, try to do for him what I must do for myself. But after a lifetime of indulging his world-view without question, his defenses are solid. At times I see him struggle to consider the possibility of an alternate route. If I hammer hard enough, he pauses in his argument to say, “Is that so?” But, it’s exhausting work, and I can’t keep it up. And I can’t make him willing.
The desire to turn off the dark highway comes from within. It comes from noticing flickers of light on the side of the road, glimpses of intriguing pathways and crossroads. It comes from taking a risk and swerving off the black pavement for once. Then, doing it again. And it takes willingness to ask for directions from people who keep different kinds of maps in their glove compartments.
Father’s Day is tomorrow. My gift for Dad is a simple prayer—to get the chance to take a side road. I pray he finds the strength to stand on a bright lane with grass waving green and high on either side, a glass half full in his hand.