Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts About My Father - Part 2

Continued from Thoughts About My Father - Part 1...

My other favorite memory of my father is from my early adulthood. My father was the sort of person that you felt like you fully knew and yet didn't know at all. He's the kind of person that, while you might know who he is, you never felt that you knew who he used to be. His life, as a story, was one that was largely untold. That is the reason why this is a memory that I cherish greatly.

When I was 17, I graduated from high school. Now that I was finally entering adulthood, I was beginning the journey of figuring out who I was, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be. After completing high school, I decided to go on a mission trip to Romania for about three months. My experience in Romania is a vast story of its own, but, in short, it was one of the most painful and lonely periods of my life, while simultaneously being one of the best periods of growth in my life. I hated it, and yet the whole experience strengthened me far more than I could have imagined that it would. Upon returning from Romania in early December, I spent a couple of months at home with my family. Not long after my return, I distinctly remember my father telling me that he wanted to spend some time with me. Being such a rare occurence, I was delighted to have the chance to spend some time with my father. We planned to go and take a hike together on Saturday morning. I wasn't sure quite what to expect. I figured that mostly he would want to hear about my trip to Romania. In any case, I was excited that my father wanted to spend time with me.

When Saturday morning came, we drove to a spot that I knew of in some hills nearby. Neither of us had hiked at this particular park before, so we figured it would be a fun adventure. The weather was neither especially ideal nor particularly foreboding. Light grey clouds covered the sky uniformly and the air felt refreshingly cool. My father and I donned our sweaters after parking the car and began our hike by heading off in a randomly-chosen direction. He was curious about my trip to Romania, and so I recounted my European adventure to him in vivid detail. Then, he began to tell me about a trip he took to Europe in his young adulthood. At one point he had become fed up with life and decided to travel across Europe to see if he could find himself and find any meaning to life. As we hiked, he told me all about the many experiences that he had on his trip, about all the train rides, about all the places he stayed, about all the people he met, and about all the adventures he had. But, it didn't stop there. Not only did he tell me what he did, he shared a bit about what he was thinking, what he was looking for and what he found. His trip across Europe was more of an existential quest for purpose, meaning and answers than it was a mere vacation. What he was looking for wasn't something geographical. In one of the countries he visited, he met some young people, stayed with them in a youth hostel and, through them, found that Jesus Christ was the answer that he was looking for. That part of the story I had heard before, but in hearing more about his journey and the despair he felt, the conclusion of his quest made much more sense to me than it ever had before.

By this point, the clouds were getting a bit darker and looming closer to earth. We had hiked to the end of the park in one direction, and were following some other paths across the tops of various hills. But, my mind was hardly on where we were going. Instead, I was enjoying getting to know my father. As we walked on, he shared more about his life as a teenage and as a young adult. Since I was starting to learn to play guitar, he told me about the time he played keyboard in a rock band when he was young. That was part of his life that I knew very little about, especially since by the time I was born, both my mother and father were convinced that rock music was demonic. As a beginning musician, it was fascinating to hear him share tales of his own musical days, what led him to pursue music, and what his experience of being in a rock band was. We had a rational, adult discussion over whether rock music is truly something that is innately evil, or whether it is something that can be used for either good or evil. He also told me about his dating experiences before he met my mother, and how he had approached relationships. His lack of success with women in his early adult years was something that contributed to the sense of disconnectedness and despair that led him to go to Europe in search of himself. He told me about his own father, and how little his father interacted with him, when he was young. We talked as we hiked, and the hours flew by. Next thing I knew, we were returning to the car and heading somewhere for lunch.

The entire morning was a beautiful blur. For the first time in my life, I actually felt that I had began to understand my father. Prior to the point, I had always seen him as distant, detached, busy and impersonal. Up until that Saturday morning hike, I never felt that I really knew my father. But, that morning, I felt that he really had opened up to me and shared parts of himself with me. Just hearing his stories and experiences helped me to connect with him in a whole new way. After our hike, when I looked over at my father, I didn't just see my father. I saw another human being. I saw someone that I could relate to. I saw someone who was real, who was imperfect, who wrestled with real issues, and who had found some answers. That was the first day that I began to really see him as a father. Even as I write this, I cannot help but feel that our connection that morning went far beyond a mere intellectual exchange of information. That was how we normally communicated. Most of our conversations were very businesslike. But, during that morning hike, we connected not only intellectually, but also emotionally and spiritually.

My father is still an imperfect person. However, this memory was a huge milestone in our relationship, and it is one of my most treasured memories of any time I ever spent with my father. For those few hours, I felt valued, I felt important, I felt that I mattered to him. During the course of those few hours, I connected with him more than I had in the previous 17 years combined. He opened himself up to me and shared his heart with me. I treasure that. I love my father--not because he's perfect, nor because he's a great example. Instead, I love my father, because he is a real person, and because he is a good person. Beneath his tough exterior, there is a man who is real, who feels, who wrestles, who seeks and who hurts. Though he is relationally clueless, he has a good heart. He loves truly. He lives a life of conviction. He loves his family. That day, I felt, in some small measure, that he actually loved me. That day, I finally caught a glimpse of who my father was. I will never forget that morning hike.

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