Lessons From My Father: Lesson #2

photoLyrics keep floating through my head lately, reminding me that time is like a well-loved play. You don’t want it to end, but you know the curtain will eventually fall. How does that song go again? Oh yeah. “When you only got a hundred years to live.”

My father turned eighty-eight last June and I turned forty-four a few months earlier. Although I’m no mathematician, something about numbers and patterns has always fascinated me, so the fact that I’m almost exactly half my father’s age right now gives me pause.

In his third act, my father is only now starting to slow down, reflecting on his past, making sense of his time. Most of the worst events of my father’s life happened when he was sixteen, my daughter’s age. Although he has shared his stories with me and I have faithfully recorded them, I can never really claim to understand the horrifying images he witnessed working on a ship during the war and later while imprisoned in a concentration camp. My daughter, meanwhile, is enjoying her high school years, going to school dances, working at her first job, volunteering for student council. Despite our age gap, her experiences during her first act are much like mine were, and neither of us can compare our minor worries to her Pappa’s teenage years. In fact, my father has often told me there were no teenagers in his time. You were simply a child. And then you were not. Perhaps that’s why he cherishes every happy memory of his early years and recalls them in such detail.

At thirteen, my son is in his final year of elementary school, navigating his social world, finding his voice on the stage, and playing video games. My father was finished his formal schooling by his age, and eagerly took his first job soon after on a steam-powered truck delivering fuel for the local hydro-electric plant. Within a few short years he was working on a merchant marine ship, delivering war materials on the Baltic. I sometimes look at my son, suddenly as tall as I am with a voice as deep as his dad’s, and wonder what it would have been like for my father as a boy during the Winter War and as a young man during World War II. I would have liked to have known him then.

And here I am, delighting in the trajectory of my second act, conscious of how short the journey is, and worrying that I’ve wasted it. Have I been grateful for the years I’ve had, free from the pain and sacrifices that my father and his generation suffered? Have I taken advantage of the opportunities afforded me by my parents and the place I grew up? Have I allowed fear to hold me back from following my dreams or been too worried about what others expected of me?

As I reflect, I realize it doesn’t really matter. Those years have faded away like the stage lights before intermission. Now, I can only count on the next scenes playing out before my eyes. There’s no time, really, for regrets. Not if I’m to make the most of the second, and dare I say, third acts. After all, there’s still a lot of magic out there and a hundred years is not nearly enough.