It’s as if I’m buckled into the passenger seat next to him. I can see the rain coming from every direction, crashing into the road and windshield. I gasp with him as the wheels beneath us seem suddenly weightless. I can hear the screeching tires, smell the burning brakes, watch the red lights blur and swirl into white. I feel the panic in my chest as we spin across a four-lane freeway during rush hour in Orange County.
But I wasn’t there. Crouched on the top stair, head leaning on the banister, I listened in as my father told the treacherous tale in our white and blue tiled kitchen. His Ford Ranger finished it’s sporadic spiral across the 5 South and promptly stalled facing four lanes of oncoming traffic. I wasn’t there, but I was there, every single morning when my father left for work.
When I heard the garage door open, I felt the panic, saw the rain, and ran like hell to make sure I got one more glimpse of my dad, because what if it was my last? He never left without saying goodbye. We’d blow each other a kiss and he’d grab mine out of the air, squeeze it tight, and stuff it in his shirt pocket, saving a little piece of love for later.
Today my own kids are a constant mystery. Why are you scared to pick out socks at two in the afternoon by yourself? Why do you need me to watch you go to the bathroom when you’ve been potty trained for two point five years? I know why. Because life doesn’t make sense. It’s messy and it’s scary, even more so when you’re only three feet tall.
I spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed by the longterm effects of my parenting missteps. I worry about my angry words, my lack of patience, and those days when I just want to be left alone. But when I think back on my own childhood, I don’t remember the angry words so much. I remember being constantly and genuinely cherished by my parents. My dad probably had no idea how much I needed all that saved up love back then but I hope he knows today what a gift it continues to be.