I lost my father when I was only 33 years old. And he was never my best friend. In fact there were so many things that he had done to me as a child that I wasn’t able to forgive him until the morning I sat by his bed, held his hand, and let him go. He wasn’t a man I admired although so many others did. He was a very successful mining engineer who served under President Carter’s administration as the Chairman of the Solar Energy Commission. He was intelligent and handsome, but a pretty mean dad. When he died I was a young mother with 4 small children and yet the little girl in me was still looking for my father’s love and approval.
Looking back over the years I now understand that my father was an injured soul who did the best he could at the time, even if it wasn’t the best for me. Because I lost him early in my life and couldn’t hold on to anger toward him after he was gone, I knew I had to work out my lingering demons on my own. I think that is what growing up is all about. Learning to let go and forgive our parents their inability to meet our every need as children, even though they did the best they knew how to do. I wonder sometimes if I had done things to him that needed to be forgiven, but realize that as I look at my grown children no matter what has happened or what has been said, I harbor no ill feelings. Maybe that is what ‘unconditional love’ is all about. It’s not “never having to say you are sorry,”but rather I think it’s never feeling like you need to forgive.” Because as parents we don’t expect our children to meet our needs.
As I reread this it sounds sad, but it really is not. My story isn’t unique and it’s not over. I still have my mom and I know that she is my best friend. We share everything; the good and the bad. We advise each other with our own brand of expertise. We are brutally honest and we aren’t afraid to ask for what we need from each other. And she’s so darn cute! But it wasn’t always like that. I had to work through my own childhood disappointments and come to the understanding that neither one of us are the same people we used to be. We’ve grown, we’ve learned, we’ve accepted each others’ weaknesses and embraced each others’ greatness.
I am no longer just her little girl and she is no longer just my mom. We respect each other as equals which makes conversation very easy, even about the difficult stuff like aging. As adult children it is our responsibility to let go of the past because as our parents age and begin to need us, we can’t afford to continue to blame them for the past. The only way we can truly help them and allow them to maintain their dignity and control as they age, is to be their friend. One who listens objectively, offers genuine advise, gives them the time to tell their story, and be open to the wisdom that they still have to share.
I may not have had the opportunity to create that kind of relationship with my dad and I know I missed out on some important and memorable experiences as a result. But I have no doubt that I will be able to assist my mom through her journey of aging because she is without a doubt, my best friend and there are no conditions to our love.