Dad taught me that choosing a path without much resistance does not lead to much of a life.
Dad wanted life to be easy. So he was never willing to put much into it. Whatever was easiest and required the least amount of effort was his go-to. When life came at him with ‘not easy’ he just couldn’t bring himself to meet the challenge.
And that set the tone for his entire life.
Growing up Mom made all the decisions. Dad was easy going to a fault. He never said or did much. He was just kind of there. Not a big self-starter. Mom would nag him constantly. He got yelled at a lot and rarely had anything to say for himself.
Dad taught chemistry at the local university for 34 years. By all accounts, Dad was decent at teaching and well liked by staff and students. Despite his professional success, his self esteem was low.
What I remember most about my Dad when I was a kid is that he would retreat to our basement as soon as he’d get home from work. He’d join us for dinner and then head back to the basement when we were done. He’d often fall asleep in his chair in front of the tv, pipe dangling from his lips, our cat taking full advantage of the available lap.
My parents divorced kind of like they were married. Mom took care of everything. Dad just went along with it. One day he was there and then he was gone.
After the divorce, we hardly saw Dad. He only lived a few miles away but it must have been too much trouble to do things with my brother and I. Eventually we stopped trying.
Dad remarried only a couple of years later. His new wife was a much better fit. She had two sons that were close to my brother and I in age. The boys had lost their father and were very accepting of Dad in ways that made it easy for him. I suspect their expectations were lower.
The years would go by marked by a card here and there and the very occasional visit.
He’s been gone almost 8 years. My brother and I didn’t see him for the last 6 years of his life. After Dad’s wife passed he chose to live near his step sons and we let it be. His health had been failing and, from what I understand, his last years were not particularly pleasant.
My dad chose to play very small on the stage of life. I don’t think he was ever happy. I don’t think his relationships were ever satisfying. I don’t think it ever really occurred to him that he could choose to live differently.
The older I’ve gotten the more I realize what my dad gave up to try and make his life easy. You see, I have a tendency to be like my dad. The urge to avoid what seems unpleasant or too difficult is strong in me. And I’m not comfortable with standing up or standing out. But I saw what a lifetime of ducking for cover did for Dad and how it affected the relationships in his life.
I decided that wasn’t for me. I am willing to put in the effort to experience as full a life as I can – even if that means it won’t often be easy. I will face the hard problems and tough choices. I won’t run away from life’s challenges. I won’t pretend the world is other than it is. I won’t be a victim.
Dad was determined to defend the way he wanted to live, as I am determined to continue pushing for the life I want.
And it is for the strength of that resolve, I must thank my dad.