I know that as your son, I have probably let you down in more ways than I can imagine. Every time you hear about your friends’ kids moving on to become doctors, lawyers, and successful entrepreneurs, or getting married and having children, I know you’ve been saving face and say that you’re still proud of me. But even in the back of your mind, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself, “What has my kid been doing?”
Maybe you don’t think that. Maybe that’s the way I imagine you think of me. Every time you or Mom tell me what your friends’ kids are up to, good or bad, I feel a strong sense of pressure on myself, wondering what it is that’s so special about them to brag about some monumental achievement they did, or some silly thing they did that got them into trouble, wondering where I fare by comparison in your immediate view of my generation. I know you say it half-jokingly, but it has always bothered me when you say that “children exist to disappoint their parents.”
For every successful peer of mine who has found a good-paying job, or landed the career of a lifetime, I still have school to finish. For every child who has gone off on their own to start their own family, I still live under your roof, and eat at your table. Some of my own peers understand some of the social pressure I have felt, but they are peers you have never known about. You have always had a minimal understanding of the things I enjoy, because you approach things so stoically, with careful observation from afar. I never understood how someone with such a broad view of the world can have such a narrow view of the details of why that’s important. But maybe that’s just the very nature of our personalities.
I never once doubted that I was your biological son as some of my peers may have questioned about their fathers, and yet I have always felt so distant from you. I am your second son, and a middle child. As an eldest son, I always imagined you may have understood my big brother most; and with Mom as the youngest and only daughter, I felt that she understood my little sister most. Neither you or Mom really knew what it was like to be that middle child. I felt like I had to learn how to be a proper member of the household my own way, failing in more ways than succeeding.
It was hard for me to understand you, even though we live under the same roof. You weren’t home most of the time for the many hours you worked to bring money home to us. And when you were home, you went off to read a newspaper or magazine, nonchalantly observing your own kids. Whenever we went on vacation, I enjoyed taking hikes and experiencing things first-hand, while you stood in air-conditioned comfort at some visitor’s center for so many hours. My brother and sister share your love for museums, but the things that amused me most were lively and personal, not in some display case from a time that felt so alien to me. To you, history may be fascinating observances that can be parceled out into neat categories; but to me, history is something I breathed and experienced in everything that I did, melded together to make me who I am. There is no “off-switch” for that.
I always found it awkward when you tried to take interest in things that I liked. Whatever new thing I was into at the time, whether it was art, science, or a hobby, you clipped out some article out of a newspaper and placed it at my seat in the morning, assuming I would read it, but never followed up with what I thought about it. When we did have in-depth discussions, you often stop me five minutes in, by flat-out telling me that you really don’t care. And when our conversations were of something that interested you, it always ended in some argument where you wanted to prove you were right, and nothing I say would matter. You tried too hard to understand the surface of my visage, but not hard enough to understand the core of my experience.
And yet, for every time I thought that you failed to understand me, I can’t help but wonder if I have failed to understand you. When you got that new car recently, I couldn’t get the same excitement out of the newfangled features you thought were so magical. Every time you yell and cheer for a sports game at home, I have to close my bedroom door and cover my ears. Even on this Father’s Day, as you go out with Mom and my sister to a movie you’ve been wanting to see, I’m sitting here at home, reflecting on what exactly it is I’m expected to celebrate on such an arbitrary occasion. I’m sorry I wasn’t the son who experienced the world the same way you do.
But even as I reflect on all of these thoughts running through my head, I can’t help but think that you have taught me some invaluable things as well.
It is often thought that feminism only concerns itself with the empowerment of women, where only women can do the right things; but having been in this community for so long, I know that such a view is very naive. And while our own country concerns itself so much by celebrating mothers and women (a construct often criticized by feminists like me), even I have to admit that the recognition of fathers often goes grossly unappreciated.
You probably skimmed most of what I wrote here, but perhaps you might read my short list of things I have learned from you.
- You taught me how to be patient.
- You taught me to remain faithful to family, as you have with yours.
- You taught me to be curious about the world.
- You taught me that the simplest answer is not always the right one.
- You taught me that conflicts and disagreements can be constructive.
- You taught me that being different isn’t such a bad thing.
- You taught me that being a good father has no clear-cut pattern, but
- You also taught me that being a good father is possible.
Other sons can make their fathers proud by becoming successful or getting out of their troubles by becoming independent. You and I both know that I’m just not there yet. And even if you think that I have just gone through life spinning my wheels, never producing satisfactory results at the time I’m expected to do so, I want you to at least know that I have. It may not have been the path you wanted me to take, but I am still moving. Sometimes I’m moving forward, sometimes backward, sometimes taking a detour and resting somewhere I never thought I would be. And in every moment of my life, I have been thinking. I don’t jot down every last reflection in my life, but that’s what I felt was most important to me, in how I interact with those that matter to me.
I gave you the name of my blog a long time ago, and sometimes I wonder if you have ever checked out the contents yet. I realize that you cringe every time you try to repeat “Lystria,” just to make sure that’s my alter ego’s name, so I can imagine how hard it is to believe the kind of things your son says publicly to strangers who may never meet him in his lifetime. But as foreign as it may seem to you, a small part of my soul has been imprinted on every bit of data that has been stored here for the Internet to see. If you ever wanted to know what results I can produce, read some of my reviews, or check out my fan fictions. Since you like observing things from afar, see how the world is from my vantage point. I can’t guarantee that you won’t be disappointed, but at least you might be able to understand something about me.
And I promise that someday, I will learn a little more about you, and how you see the world. I can’t stay dependent on you forever, and I know we will disagree on many things, but I think that understanding is of utmost importance to relationships.
I do admit, that I do not know what it’s like to be a father; and that, like anything else, may take much more time than you might expect. But while I don’t know what it’s like to be a father, I know what it’s like to have children, through every student I have ever had as a tutor. It’s not always pretty, and sometimes I wonder if my words and lessons will ever reach them, no matter how hard I try. And I know it only becomes more intensive when I become a teacher, having thousands of kids in my lifetime! But perhaps one thing I have to remind myself is that they will be fine. I have done what I can to help my children get through school, as you have done what you can to raise me. And whether or not my students have ever produced the results I wanted was never the pivotal reason I made that connection in the first place. It was my obligation and pleasure to bestow my wisdom on them, as it was probably your obligation and pleasure to bestow your wisdom on me.
I don’t know how often I’ve ever said this to you, and I know guys aren’t so sentimental, but…
I love you, Dad.
Scott, the True Lystria.