It's 2:00 am on December 26th and I can't sleep. One of the most anticipated and celebrated days around the world is but a memory and, as I toss and turn, all I can think about is my father. Christmas day was joyous for us; family, food, gifts, and above all, celebration of the birth of Christ. A highlight for me was Skyping with my family back home in Ireland as they prepared for their traditional Christmas dinner. Our own meal here in Paris had been modeled on what I grew up eating and loving -- I am a sucker for tradition. I got to speak to my mother and my two brothers whom I love dearly and who never cease to make me laugh, I am so proud of those two. Only my two sisters were missing from the equation as they were with their in-laws. Seeing my father brought a rush of emotions I wasn't quite prepared for. He has aged in recent years and one is never truly prepared for the shock each time it happens. Every trip home or Skype conversation shows signs of aging and decreased mental faculty. And it will only get worse as time goes on. As I lay awake last night I got to thinking of the relationships we have with our fathers and how they affect the people we are. How the very fabric of who we end up becoming is imprinted on us way back when we are just kids trying to figure out why a round peg won't fit in a square hole. I am now 37 years old and amongst my peers, we are starting to have the conversation more and more about our parents and the changes we notice. What I am realising is that no one ever prepared us for it. No one ever handed out a manual in our teens that said, “This person you grew up thinking was the strongest person in the world and would always make you feel protected and secure, will someday start to decline and you will be left to face the pain of that on your own.” It feels like there has been a massive gap in time from my early twenties up to now. That gap is my fault. I am the one who got itchy feet with boring old rural Ireland and moved to Australia. It's me who then moved to London and Paris six years after that. Maybe what I am feeling is guilt because I chose not to stay, I chose to leave my family and then I get upset when I see all the changes that have happened over the years. Leaving a country and all the things you love is easier when you have a dream and a purpose. I was not wired to be a home-bird. I love adventure, career change, and meeting new people. Where I am now is as close as I have ever been to calling home, and I like it, a lot. But the draw to my father tugs at me like never before. A deep yearning has stirred within me to go home and sit beside his favourite armchair and ask him all the questions I have been to afraid to ask him over the years. I want to delve into the sides of him I never knew as a kid.
I also spent a considerable amount of time thinking of two other father-son relationships that my heart cries out for. The first is the dearest friend imaginable and I am honoured by the closeness and honesty of our bond. His father was diagnosed a few years ago with a severe illness that left him incapable of eating. That's right, no food. Can you even imagine what that's like? Nope, me neither. No turkey or mashed potatoes, no ice-cream, no bread fresh from the bakery..... Big fat zilch on the eating front. His dad has been through innumerable surgeries, is on an IV twelve hours a day, and don't even start me on how they have more medical equipment in their home than your average ambulance. My buddy travels a lot for his work and each time there is an emergency I am on my knees praying that he can get back from whatever part of the world he is in if he needs to say goodbye or tell his dad one last time how much he loves him. I hope that we can all tell our dads how much we love them without there needing to be an emergency or before it is too late. I certainly need to work more on this myself. I know for a fact that this illness has made their relationship stronger and that my buddy looks at all the amazing things his father has achieved in his lifetime and strives to leave behind a legacy himself that will be a fitting tribute to his fathers'.
The other relationship is that of a mentor of mine and his son. The father is a man with a heart so big that after just a five minute conversation with him you walk away wanting to make the world a better place. His issue is with his son. His boy, who I think is probably mid-twenties, has strayed from his path. This mentor of mine has spent his life humbly serving others and asks nothing in return, yet the one thing that would bring his heart the most joy is to have his son back in his arms like the boy he knew growing up. I ache for him, I ache because I have been the stray. I was the one who went out and partied and had no respect for those closest to me. I had a chip on my shoulder and “screw you” if you had a problem with that. Classic case of youth being wasted on the young. Luckily my family loved me through it all but I wasted a lot of time out there in the wilderness. I hope that his son will see the error of his ways and not waste the precious time he has been gifted with.
In a couple months I will turn a year older and my beard will be a little bit grayer. I believe that I can make up for the time I may have lost along the way, that the lessons I learned from my father will make me a better father and husband. The sands of time have been generous to me even though I may have not always deserved it, but today is a good day and I will make it count.