There was only one man I ever thought was perfect. In my childhood eyes, he could do no wrong—any hint of imperfection was simply a mistake in my judgment.
I often wish adulthood had not robbed me of this blinded vision. It’s difficult to see your father as a man—not a superhero, a brave soldier, nor as I once dreamt, a counter-terrorism agent.
Although my father was a very atypical man (he had impeccable taste in women’s saris and jewelry, was highly involved in his daughters’ lives, and loved children more than any woman I’ve known), in many ways he was a customary male.
He always drove the car (and never asked for directions), never called in sick to work, and only ever once cried in front of me. My brother-in-law would say his favorite ‘male’ trait of my father’s was that he left banana peels right next to the garbage bin, but never bothered to throw them in.
We would laugh at these small shortcomings (though I’m sure my mother would not think them so insignificant). But as his daughter, I always felt hurt when someone mocked him. I wanted to show them the man I knew—the one who never refused a beggar with the disrespect of a hand, who always came home with flowers on anniversaries, and who smiled a smile wide enough to swallow everybody’s problems. I refused to let other people’s dust settle on my father’s pedestal.
Parents often don’t realize that as hard as it is to see children grow into adults, it is just as painful for children to see parents grow out of childhood. Where we once found comfort at you kneeling on the floor pretending to be a dog, we now find insecurity at hearing your voices tremble with fear. When we start to see you as normal human beings with faults and weaknesses, we worry that we too, might be breakable. If you are no longer infallible, neither are we.
Don’t get me wrong. This transformation is both necessary and invaluable. Were it not for our ability to accept the faults in those we’ve always loved, we would never be able to love anybody new. We realize with our new adult vision that not only is nobody perfect, but that nobody ever was.
For those of us whose youth has been tainted by random acts of terrorism, people killed without reason or rhyme, perfection in human beings is almost a comical expectation. Perhaps this makes us even more nostalgic for our picture-perfect pasts, a time in which peace was still an option—at least in our homes if not in the world.
My father always felt that young people were judged unfairly; he understood the need for drunken nights as much as he did a sound education. He would say the onus always fell on the parent to understand more than the child; after all, they had the extra years of their own freedom to learn from.
So when we reproach our children for partying too hard, or skipping a class or two, it might serve us well to bring out the youth in us again–to remember the times when laughing was just as crucial to living as learning.
We miss the children in our parents sometimes.
My father used to throw me into the air and then into the ocean (when I was much younger, of course); and it’s my favorite childhood memory. I would shriek with the thrill of abandon and fall fearless into the water—after all, daddy was there to save me. I remember his beaming face through the blur only ripples of water can bring, his smile swayed side to side by the waves.
What I know now that I didn’t know then: my father was suffering from a weak heart, and it didn’t serve him well to lift anything into the air, let alone another human being. I never saw the wrinkles of worry crease my mother’s forehead, at once torn apart between the joy she witnessed in her child and husband, and the need to stop him short of harming himself. I never saw my sister swimming on the side, wishing she could go back to being a few years younger when it was OK to be that childish.
I only saw what I saw.
But luckily for me, I’ve inherited my father’s ability to sometimes shed the layers of adulthood that make us cynical when we’d fare better to be hopeful. I learned how to be a child again, to believe in magic, to forgive easily and play happily. Sure it doesn’t come out as much as I’d like, but it’s there when I need it most.
So I can go back to the drawing board, and scribble on top of what I used to see before I grew up. I can add in the small details, the extra depth, and the currents under the water. And still, I can say the picture looks perfect.