A Sentence That Changed Me…
“I wish I never had kids.”
Years ago I wrote that sentence in my journal as I watched the tide roll in on a beach in Hawaii. That is what my father uttered one day, years ago, when I was in my early twenties. I am the youngest of seven children, four boys and three girls. My father loved most of us, and was alternately fully engaged with being a father, and disappearing. I mean disappearing into his work, traveling for weeks at a time, or disappearing into distance and silence.
He uttered those during a time of turbulence in our family, when my oldest brother was in a bitter and sometimes violent fight for custody of his son; when another brother was showing signs of mental illness; and within a few years of my mother passing away. He followed his words by saying that he wished he could hide away somewhere and forget it all, live his own life, and we would just be fine without him.
My initial response was one of shock and hurt. The words sunk into my consciousness over the following days. He couldn’t mean it….I remembered the times he was engaged as a father, he played basketball with us, he fixed cars with my brothers, he took us to the library, and more. He encouraged us to take education seriously and helped us with our homework.
A few weeks after his comment I decided I would be the one to hide away and I chose Hawaii. I had never traveled extensively, but wanted to. I started saving my money for a trip. I decided to “go live my life” and he would be just fine without me.
About a year later, I landed in Honolulu and stayed at a YMCA that was also serving as a dorm for female college students attending the University of Hawaii. I met people from around the world. I eventually moved into a house where I was a part time nanny and had full time access to a car. But what I really had access to was exploration—exploration of a new “land”, people and culture. I was on my own for the first time in my life.
Because of my new Hawaiian connections, I was able to travel to Alaska for a month, staying three weeks in a fisherman’s family cabin and one week on my own to explore. I saw glaciers, flew in a four-seat plane over the Alaskan mountain ranges and came face to face with a great Kodiak bear. I loved my experiences there and in Hawaii, but a part of me longed for home and my family.
One night I received a phone call from my Dad, telling me he was feeling ill. He had been to the doctor and they were diagnosing some kind of nerve issue. He sounded depressed and stated he wanted me to come home. I flew home just two days later even though I had already landed a job in Hawaii. I missed him, and he missed me. He may have exaggerated his illness a little in the attempt to get me to come home, but I didn’t mind.
His words changed me, despite my return. I knew I had only one life to live, and that I had to own it. I knew I had to explore, to experience, but I did not need to do it at the expense of my family relationships. I never asked my Dad to explain his earlier words. They became clear to me over time. He was having a moment of sheer despair. Part of his despair had to do with feeling guilty about the pain he had also brought to us, and the lack of control he had over making our lives perfect and happy. It was not just about the pain we brought to him by our mere existence.
I do also remind myself that my father shared so many kind and loving words over the years; so many times when he was actively involved in raising or protecting us. In his final years, we lived together again, and I became his primary caretaker. The love between us was evident every day in his words and actions, and I hope my love for him was equally evident.
Now, years later, reading my old journal entries from Hawaii, it occurs to me that I never completely solved the puzzle that was my father. Like the tide before me, he alternated between closeness and withdrawal, and occasional fierce storms.