Monday, October 19, 2009

A Parent Looks at Forty

Sorry for the play on words, Jimmy Buffett fans. Like all of us, my parents are getting older. So am I. No big shock. Recently there have been a few events that both my mom and my dad have dealt with, which brought me to this blog post today. I'll touch on a few of them, particularly my dad. The problem I'm seeing at times is not that my dad is getting older, it seems at times he is getting "worse." He looks old. Tired. He's starting to break down. And it's weird for a kid who always saw him as the guy that could beat me in basketball, arm wrestling, or throwing a ball.

Last week my dad had a second pacemaker installed. (I guess that's the term, installed???) It's like getting a new set of brakes for your car. Take out the old one and put in a new one. I wonder if they leave the old pacemaker in the box in the backseat, so you can see they did the work.....Needless to say, these events and surguries have gotten me thinking about my own situation: relations with my own boys, my parents, and the fact that I myself (give or take) am only 20 years from being on the flip side of this blog post, with my kids sitting down and pondering the same issues.

I've lived out of state, away from my parents (who still live in Virginia) since I graduated from JMU in 1993. My parents are divorced, neither remarried. Since I've had my kids, I'm lucky if I get to spend more than a few days a year with my parents. And I wonder now where the time has gone. Weekends are busy. Cub scouts, soccer games, and work. It's hard to squeeze in what I need to get done in just 2 days off. Somehow, I've been so busy living my life the last 10 years that I feel like I have forgotten/failed to share the boys with my parents. And just as important, share my parents with my boys.

Growing up, I have fond memories of my grandparents: Vacations, holidays, birthdays, etc. I'm not sure that any of my children have EVER seen a grandparent on their birthday. My boys should have those same memories. As I started to think of these things, I began to wonder how well I even know my own parents. I have questions popping into my head right now that I should know about my mom and dad, but I don't:
  • Favorite Movie?
  • Favorite Actor/Actress?
  • Vacation place?
  • Place to eat?
  • Childhood memory?
  • If they could change one thing about their life, what would it be?
  • Who do they miss the most?
  • Who are their best friends?
  • Favorite TV Show?
There are many more...

I think I've decided that I'm going to play a little game with my kids the next few days. We are going to come up with some more questions to ask my parents the next time we see each of them. I can blog the answers, where they'll live here on the internet forever. The boys can always look back on those questions and answers. It will be a little piece of my parents that will be around as long as we want it to be. So I guess I've got a topic for a future blog.

As I think about my dad and look back, I wish that our relationship was closer. He wasn't the most warm and loving fellow. My fondest memories of my dad are of him taking me to sporting events. Mets games in New York as a small boy. Capitals and Orioles games as a teenager. Events, that, quite frankly, ticket prices preclude me from doing with my boys as often as I would like.
I can remember thinking that my dad was nuts as we sat 2 rows behind the Penalty box in the Cap Centre. It must have been 1981, and the Vancouver Canucks were playing Washington. "Tiger" Williams was a semi-talented goon who played for the Canucks. I remember him being a big fighter, and getting some cheap shots in on a Capital player. There was my dad, banging on the glass, yelling "Pull his hair, Tiger, you little Girl." Tiger was banging his stick on the glass, and pointing at my dad. I was scared shitless. But that's the way I remember Dad. I remember he and I going to all the Capitals fan club banquets, and sitting with number 14, Gaetan Duchesne. My dad making my practice my limited french while sitting with one of my idols, a French-Canadian. Again, scared shitless.
In 1978 or 1979, my dad took a job in Virginia. We lived on Long Island. He lived in VA, and drove back home on the weekends. He always brought a present. Albums: The Bee Gees, Foreigner. Baseball cards. I looked so forward to him coming home. A boy needs his dad.

I guess it's unfair or one sided of me to mention some of these fond memories without mentioning some bad ones.
I remember living in New York, I was playing in an end of season baseball All Star game. I was nine years old. My dad was supposed to come, I looked for him, and he never showed. Mom was there. I played great. I asked Mom "where's dad?" She said that he was busy, or else he would have been there. When I got home, I remember finding him out back on that patio, drinking a Tom Collins with our neighbor, Lou Prelli. I was so mad that he'd missed my big day. He laughed at me.
I remember him playing golf. Lots of golf. On the weekends. And Mom never being happy about it.

I remember Mom ALWAYS driving us to practices and being at our games. She never missed them. He missed often. She's still just as consistent, up here for every holiday, always having a great time with the boys.

I remember being like 16, and Dad and I got into an arguement. He threw a screwdriver, and almost hit me. I was livid, and so was my brother Rob, who saw it. We fought with him. But he finally realized that we were big enough that together, he could no longer handle us. I'm certain my brother Rob remembers the day, as we've talked about it on occassion through the years.

The point of all this is that you don't even realize when you are making memories, both good and bad. And I'm sure that my dad never thought that at the age of 8 or 9, 32 years later I'd still be pissed that he wasn't at my All Star baseball game.

Which brings me to today. With my Dad's health starting to go downhill, and my littlest boys in that 9 to 10 year old time frame, I look to myself. Am I doing enough? What will they remember? Will they think of me any differently that I recall my time with my dad? I'm way involved. I coach soccer. I'm a Cub Scout den leader. My brother Rob coaches as well. It's probably a reaction to our Dad's lack of involvement. At times I worry if I'm too involved. I don't remember my dad ever really saying that he loved us. I know he did. But he didn't say it. So I say it to my boys every day and every night. There is never a day in their life that they don't hear from me that I love them. I mean it, but it's probably also a reaction to my Dad's lack of saying it. (or maybe he did, and I don't remember, and all of this just isn't that important.)
In the end, maybe it doesn't matter at all how the kids remember the parents. Perhaps it's more about the expectation level that the parents set for the children. What ideals do they instill? What is important in the parents, and the child? How will I pass these values on the my kids. If I raise them right, as responsible citizens, with a nice expectation of a good education, good morals, and a good quality of life, I've done my job. Right?

I wish I could change my situation geographically. I wish I lived closer to my childhood home. I wish that my boys could spend more time with my folks. They love their grandparents. I get a kick when the boys call Grandma or Grandpa (from their cell phones.) I don't even know who they are talking to. The boys just chatting away like old women. The little guys want to spend more time with grandparents. Not that we haven't.
We have had some great times in Nags Head with each of my parents, and some very fond memories of Mom and the boys with us at Disney. But they don't want to do anything in particular....just being close to them is good enough. Hanging out with the man and woman who CREATED their dad. The 2 people who understand their dad as well as they themselves a way that only a parent, or only a child can. The boys can relate to my mom and dad. Hell....very few people have had to put up with ME in life so much as this small fraternity has. My parents. My kids. My wife.

All that other stuff. The baseball. The hockey. The golf. Some of the not so rosey memories....That isn't important. In the end, I can erase the bad, keep the good. Maybe create a few new memories and stories in the years to come. At the end of the day, I still want to hang out with my parents. I hope my boys will feel the same about Maria and I when they get older.

Turning 40 is weird. It's probably the halfway mark of life. And you look backward and forward with equal focus. I'm not going through some sort of midlife crisis. But I do think that you assess the situation. Take the measure of your life. And you look in both directions to see if there are corrections that need to be made. I've got a long way to go. I want to get it right. And I don't want to miss anything along the way. I promise, I'll take a lot of pictures.

No, I'm not a pirate. But I am looking at 40. Hopefully I haven't arrived too late. I think I can still make the cannons thunder...

Yes I am a pirate
Two hundred years too late
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late