I have waited most of my life for this moment: to stand in my father's ski boots.
Today I am the exact age my dad was when he died in a freak ski accident. Back then, I was 16: self-centred, emotional, athletic, and focused. He was 43 and nine days: broody, generous, heavy-handed, and hot-tempered. Sometimes we collided. Often I hid.
He remains the biggest mystery of my life thus far; a murky, shadow figure. As a grieving teen, prone to cast only villains and heroes, he lived a short time on my sparkling, crystal pedestal. And he would've stayed there longer, were it not for a phone call -- an "I'm grieving, too, please forgive me" missive to my mother from his other woman. Other painful memories resurfaced then: bloody, jagged shards of broken glass I've tried in vain, over the years, to puzzle back together.
"Who was my father? How did he think? How could he do that?" are questions which have rattled in my brain and affected, inadvertently, the course of my life. My personality? Opposite to Dad. Career pursuits and spouse selection? Opposite to Dad. Child-rearing Philosophy? Pin that thought.
If I could spend anywhere today, it would be on his mountain, the one he loved, ideally all covered in snow-topped trees and moguls. I've taught my children to ski and they adore it too. This spring, they zoomed past the entry to Dad's final ski run, their heads full of positive stories of him relayed by me on the chairlift. I felt it was ironic that they appeared closer to this man than I had ever been. Until today.
Today I recognize that no parents are perfect. We all make mistakes. We all feel anger. But we drop our hands and go yank weeds. Or hastily scrub dishes. Or testily sort recyclables. Or boot that soccer ball over the goal posts into someone's yard. I hear my father's regret from the grave and I can forgive him now because I fully believe that no parent intends to intentionally hurt their child. I know this because my father's father told me what he would say to his son, were he still alive. And the apology rolled in tears down his face to dissolve a generational cycle of flying fists.
At 43 and nine days, I know that parents burn out and all marriages need both overhauls and regular tune-ups. With three kids still in elementary school (my parents had five), my parenting marathon isn't even one-third over; I'm running without a route marker in sight (and I'm sure all talk of a "finish line" is myth or legend).
But because of my father's death, I've discovered that life is not a race but a brief, precarious, icy slope, often without any indicators of hazards or an end to the course. I juxtapose these two metaphors in my head and try to live somewhere in between the marathon and the double black diamond run.
Some days I am discouraged, anemic, or mentally exhausted and just want to pull the covers over my head. I'm sure my children wonder at times, "Who is my mother? How does she think? How could she do that?" So I make my bed again and resolve to show them -- not just with words -- that they are in my heart's centre; that I am doggedly determined to act on their behalf for good.
Recently, my youngest confided to me, "You used to be more fun!" I laughed in response, delighted that he felt safe enough with me to be honest. I could rarely do this with my dad; mostly because as a child experiencing stress and distress, I would lose my words. My son's feedback helps me raise my game, in this case, at the amusement park and into a more intentional season of light-hearted time spent with him. It's what he says he needs. To be honest, I could use that now, too.
Today, at 43 and nine days, I have enough experience of death and loss to ascertain that the waves of grief never fully diminish but there is a variation of time between sets. There has been healing at different stages over the years; different aspects of coming to terms with Dad's life, death, and loss. And so today, I can finally accept that, having reached my father's age at death, I will never know my Dad. At least, not as I would desire: as two adults would, shoulder-to-shoulder engaged in an honest conversation loaded with apologies and resolution. But God-willing, I aspire to give this to my children. Someday they will fully know me.
Today, I change my perspective as I step past this epic milestone. Today, I resolve to remember more of Dad's laugh, his best intentions, his generosity, in short, the green side of his volcano-sized personality. I tell myself that if I wake up tomorrow, I will have survived my father... at least by a day. And to make that day count.