My Dad’s and my first trip together as adults ended this morning with me depositing him on a C train bound for Uptown Manhattan.
As I stood on the Canal Street subway platform waving goodbye, feeling (mostly) confident that the combination of the directions I gave him (get off at Penn Station, then look for signs or ask people for the Air Train to Newark Airport) and his own wits would be enough to get him safely to the airport, I couldn’t help but note the symbolism of the moment.
Symbolism the 1st:
My Dad likes to tell stories.
Growing up one of the ones he told the most often was the story of his journey to Canada from Ecuador. The only other time he’d been to New York City before this trip. In 1970 something. With nothing but a handful of money (which he needed to hold onto to live off of once he got to Canada) and about the same number of English words as he had items of luggage (so maybe two) to his name.
He’d tried to ask a cab driver to take him to a hotel. Ended up on some random street corner. Realized fairly quickly he wasn’t going to be able to sort out a place to stay, and so then had another cab driver take him back to the airport where he spent a sleepless night before catching his flight to Toronto the next morning.
Around 40 years later, with an English vocabulary that long ago outgrew the size of even his native Spanish one, off I sent him to tackle navigating New York City solo a second time.
Like I said, I was sure he was going to be fine. I’m sure he was too. And yet, I still felt a bit nervous for him. And if the number of times he asked me to show him the map indicates anything — I think he did a bit too.
Re-walking the difficult parts of our pasts is often healing.
Not necessarily easy, though.
Symbolism the 2nd:
This parting marked the culmination of a pattern established early on in, and maintained throughout, our four day trip to NYC together.
The man I once relied upon to lead me and my two brothers around strange places this time around followed my lead.
My Dad will always have a leadership role in my life. He will always be a trusted advisor. But for a few years now we’ve been struggling to adjust to the fact that while the weight I put upon his opinions of my choices has changed, our ways of relating to each other haven’t.
One of the most challenging aspects to navigate of my Game Changing Decision to leave my Govie Policy Nerd job in Ottawa and move home to Toronto was his reaction.
It was very difficult for him — the man who immigrated to Canada with next to nothing to his name — to wrap his mind around his 32-year-old daughter walking away from a steady, well-paying job. He has an attachment to financial security that someone like me, who has never known what it is to be poor, to be one of ten kids none of whom went to bed with full belly every night, can understand.
Telling him my plans was tough.
Being able to understand that his initial negative reaction represented not a lack of love for me, but a protectiveness — an “I’m your Dad and sometimes I think I know what’s better for you than you know for yourself” perspective, was almost impossible.
Instead I felt hurt.
Couldn’t he just open with, “I’m happy you’re coming home?”
We talked about this last night over a bottle of wine. An appropriately named Argentinian Malbec called “Punto Final.” And finally, on the last night an amazing trip during which he let me lead us around on all manner of adventures, he said what I needed to hear.
Of course he wants me to live in Toronto again.
My leaving 13-years ago was really hard for him.
Yes he’s worried about me finding another good job.
But he knows I’ll be alright.
Has as much confidence in my living with intention decision as I do.
And he gets that what I need from him when I talk about the future is not sober second thought on whether I’m making the right turn, but the advice and support of him walking beside me as I make it.
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