In this age of cell phones that are supposedly great technological advances over the land lines of the past, I am the Luddite who bemoans the fact that our connections aren’t always easier now. It seems as if two people on a cell can’t talk at once, so there’s a lot of talking over one another, and some awkwardness as we miss parts of each other’s sentences. There are dropped calls. There’s a heck of a lot of voicemail. Mobile means the phone’s got to go with you, always. A landline phone stays nicely rooted to one part of the house and can be left behind. Listening today can be harder.
My little rant against tech might be analogous to how a parent must feel about the connection with a teen. You try to tell your child to watch out for this, be sure to do that, appreciate what you’ve got. The child nods, “Uh-huh,” with a glazed look in her eye and goes her merry way. She assumes that some things just grow on trees. She thinks she’s a free agent and in charge of all her decisions. She takes parental care, and concern, and money, and love for granted.
My favorite history teacher, Dr. Jack Barnwell, shared some of this parental truth about disconnected kids on my friend Jennifer’s wonderful book blog, Bacon on the Bookshelf. His musings on whether his daughter’s listened to him over the years remind me of my dad’s experience with his daughters. I thought I knew everything at 18 and felt driven to inculcate my dad in all my wisdom once I came back from one year at college. I didn’t think to ask him many questions until later in life.
It’s as my friend Tracy said to me recently, “It wasn’t till my twenties that I realized my parents were human beings.” I knew exactly what she meant the moment she said it, after having raised a teen-ager (or having tried, shall we say). My parents having concerns or troubles? Having private, personal lives? Them feeling exhausted at night? Not really on my radar.
My dad has given and given to me with great generosity for all my forty-seven years. He gave me a peaceful, secure home.He’s put me first so I could have the best education. He’s offered me all kinds of travel experiences. My father has never ceased working hard and being there anytime I needed to talk. He’s always valued my views, my thoughts, my hopes and ambitions. It wasn’t till I got older than I learned how many people don’t get this gift in their lives.
Watching my husband try to guide his son away from assumption and presumption, which is some ways are the flaws of every child, toward awareness and gratitude, I am struck by the incredible grace and generosity of dads like these wonderful men. I don’t think I thanked my father much when I was growing up. I just assumed Daddy would always be there, and presumed he would provide for my needs whenever I asked, or even if I didn’t. I do believe I ordered whatever I liked when we were out at a restaurant, without a second thought as to cost. I shopped for prom dresses and rushed off to college not thinking how anyone would pay the bills.
Dads like mine and Jack and my husband don’t mind that we’re so oblivious in our constant requests and expectations. They love us that much. And that, I think, is pretty amazing.
Thank you, Daddy, for not asking for all you gave me in return. For giving and giving without any promise of return. For making your girls a priority, and loving us in this unconditional way. And thank you for not saying, “Now you’re getting it?” when I came telling you of all my new, late-found wisdom in the last year.
The least I can do for my father is remember how he’s given to me all these years. I can pass on the same unconditional giving to all who are young and assuming. It’s their job to grow up, and it’s my turn to try to be at least half the grown-up my father has been.
The giving is the message, and it will stick in our hearts in ways our words never will.
I might not trust in my mobile phone, but I can trust in this.