I’m rounding the bend to 30 years of age, and my concept of life over time has begun to drastically change–not because 30 is a magical number, but because I’ve finally lived enough years to realize how fast they pass. One year goes quickly. It’s alarming. I’m watching my best friend struggle and fight with grace to complete his life’s projects that he’s waited to be a part of and worked on for more than a decade, and possibly his whole life. I’m lingering with a degree from a well-known art school that is almost five years old, knowing I have the capacity to kick ass, and wondering if it’s how I want to spend my energy and days. I’m watching my older sister complete part of her dreams as she prepares for a residency as a midwife in Bali. Some of us have our lives ahead of us. Some of us are in medias res. Some of us are looking back and reclaiming and salvaging what we have left.
And… I’m looking back on my Dad’s life. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in late December this past year. He’s just around the bend from retirement, as he will be turning 60 this September. And I honestly feel like he has never lived. It bothers me a lot. My mom broke his pipe when they first got married, and he let that joy slip away. She caught him sitting on a hill watching nude bathers when she surprised him during one of his research trips in graduate school. She’s never let it go. The man has never even been to a strip club. He’s never been drunk. He never played sports. He rarely played board games. He’s never driven a fast car. He’s never been in a fight. He has one friend, our family’s long-time car mechanic, and I think they lost touch. He doesn’t go out to eat. He doesn’t know what ceviche is. Or a mimosa. He’s never sent a text message. He’s gone through only two pairs of shoes in the past 20 years. He repairs then every week as part of his chores. He’s very smart, yet very simple.
Once I reached a certain age, I realized my dad was compromised. One day, before a business trip, my dad took me to the garage and led me to the back of the van to show me where he had hidden a box of vanilla wafers for the journey. “Don’t tell your mother!” The woman wouldn’t let him have vanilla wafers. When he should have been enjoying cheesecake, my mom had him on rice cakes. It wasn’t a porn magazine. It wasn’t a stash of money. It wasn’t a pipe. It was a box of the most benign cookies known to man. And he couldn’t wait to savor them. Thus was his waking life.
There are so many things I wish for my dad. But it’s been up to him to live his own life and make his own tracks on this earth. He’s made his decisions. And now his health condition has decided something for him. He has done most of his exploring inside his own head, as an uber-smart, uber-visionary government research scientist. Yet he’s missed an outer life. An exploratory life. An experimental life. I feel frustrated for him, knowing that if an epiphany were to occur, and he decides to live it up, he’s now compromised.
I’m just trying to figure out how to live. I’m finally one year out of a bad relationship, and I feel free. I’m in a good place. I want to accomplish everything at once, and yet fuck off and try new things. I may never find a balance, but I honestly feel that in trying, I will have lived my life. Some days I feel like time is ticking and I feel the fire under my ass and all I want to do is work on my projects. Other days, I feel like the world is calling me to come explore it. Either way, I don’t want to end up with a wasted life. Yesterday, I went fishing for creatures in a local creek and came up with seven fish and three water dogs. The night before, I tried a new cigar. The day before, I worked on the children’s book my best friend and I are creating. I have a very interesting job, and can’t wait to fall into something else because I know that won’t be the last job I ever have. Whether I live on a small and private scale, like learning how to say thank you in 11 different languages, or learning a new video or board game, or familiarizing myself with films one director at a time…or whether I live on a big scale like traveling to a different country, publishing a book, or becoming a parent, I am determined to have a full life.
Looking back on a parent’s life is bittersweet. You’re proud to have known and observed someone so completely. And you see how they’ve spent their single go-around in life, for better or worse. What’s done is done. The way my dad has lived is one of my greatest caveats. He didn’t screw up his life. He just hasn’t insisted on living it.