So many things to say in one small post: fear, excitement, irritation, disappointment, surrender. I’ve been sitting here in my favorite coffee shop for the last half an hour, typing a few lines, deleting them, looking out the window for a bit, then starting over. There’s something that’s been bugging me for the last couple of weeks, but until Friday I didn’t really know how to spell it out for other people. But let me give it a try.
If you’ve been reading, you’ll know that my father’s in the hospital. He’s had an amputation, but is doing very well. He’s scheduled to be released any day now, and everyone is sure that he’ll make a full recovery and be walking with a prosthetic in a few months. He’s very down in the dumps right now, as should be expected in the face of such a life-altering event. But my mother is putting up with his grumpiness like a champ, and I call him every day to see if I can lift his spirits a bit (in exchange for him dampening mine, usually). He’s also getting tons of visitors, since he’s a popular guy. I know that he’s very happy to be seeing how much he means to all of you that have visited, so thank you for taking the time to go and shoot the breeze with him.
Every day when I call him, Daddy talks to me about what’s on his mind that day, or what paperwork needs to get done, that kind of thing. And every day, before we get off of the phone, he tells me to be careful when I go to Spain. I’ve been trying to take this last bit with a grain of salt. I always tell him about the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who walk the Camino Frances every year, and that crime is nearly nonexistent along the Camino in comparison to my hometown of New Orleans. Yes, I am literally going to be the safest that I’ve been in years, statistically speaking, when I’m on my pilgrimage.
I know with all my heart that my father is just afraid for me, being so far from home, especially now that he feels doubly unable to protect me. I will never completely understand how much it must hurt him to think of me being hurt, but I can empathize with that feeling of powerlessness in the face of a world that seems to be filling up with more darkness every minute. I don’t want him or Mum to be scared for me, and I’ve tried to do everything I could to allay their fears as much as possible.
Even though I can understand the fear that comes along with having a child, and watching that child make decisions that you just can’t wrap your brain around, I still don’t think it’s an excuse to never try to understand what drives her. Neither parent has asked why I want to go on pilgrimage (not that I have all the words for it, but I am certainly not without at least a sense of a message). I’ve forced my mother to listen to stories about St. Francis, and hear about things I’ve learned about the Camino. I’ve given her every scrap of information I could about where I’d stay, what I’d bring with me, who I’d meet. She listened, and I think it allayed her fears a little. I think she at least gets my wanderlust, if not the spiritual component of needing the time to clear my head and connect with the Universe. On the other hand, my father, the one who loves history, culture, and adventure, the one from whose lineage this wanderlust was no doubt delivered, has shown zero interest. Just fear.
I can get over all of this. I am my own woman. I have travelled to more countries than most people I know, and I do not regret learning more about this world and the people that inhabit it. It helps me understand my purpose here. Daddy told me when I was little that after you’ve travelled to enough places, you realize that they’re all the same. I’ve learned just the opposite. Maybe I haven’t been to enough places? Or maybe he hasn’t. Or maybe that’s just what happens when you’re a pessimist; you fail to see the things that make each place unique, another puzzle piece in this big, beautiful slice of creation.
What I can’t seem to see my way around is the lack of support, the absence of enthusiasm. My father spent my entire childhood being a Boy Scout leader, and a damn good one. He was instrumental in helping to raise hundreds of boys to become strong, capable men. He spent most of his weekends on camping trips with the boys, leaving Mum and me home to do our own thing (watch horror movies and eat ice cream, mostly). I felt loved as a small child, but as I grew older, I started to be jealous of the quality time that my father had with the boys in my community. They got to do all the things I wanted to do – learn to swim and boat, save lives, build bridges, light a fire with sticks, live in the wilderness, even go wayfinding. I loved all of these things, and really wanted to learn how to do them. I would have loved to learn from my father, but as a girl, I didn’t fit into the plan. Eventually when my JROTC program decided to start an Explorers chapter my junior year in high school, I was on every camping trip they’d let me on. It definitely wasn’t the same, but it would have to do.
When Daddy was home, spending time with me included watching fantasy & action movies, talking about ghosts, history and religion, and going to yard sales – all my favorite things to this day. He taught me a little about how to upholster furniture and work with power tools, but he was always telling me that I wasn’t strong enough, and I eventually grew to believe him. I understood that he loved me, but I also understood that there were invisible barriers to that love. He thought I was good, and he was proud of me, but he didn’t think that I was strong or capable, and he’d never see me as being equal to any of the boys he’d raised. I’m sure he didn’t mean it, and doesn’t think it consciously, but his attitude tells me that I’m still second class.
When I was home for his surgery and recovery, Mum and I were with him in the hospital for a few hours every day. One day, four of his old Boy Scouts came to visit. They’re all grown men now, older than I am, with kids and families of their own. I remembered all of them very well, as I was just at the age to start getting crushes on older boys when they were in my father’s troop. They were four of the nicest ones, who didn’t pick on me too much. Two of them had younger siblings that were my age, and one of them is even married to one of my cousins now. It was nice to see them all together after so many years, and they joked around and got Daddy laughing with them. It was a pleasure to hear their old stories from how much fun they had when they were scouts.
Then one of them cleared his throat, and very solemnly told Mum and me how, now that he’s older with a family of his own, he’s realized what a great sacrifice we’d had to make, giving Daddy up to the Boy Scouts all those years. He got a little choked up when he was talking, and Daddy got misty-eyed, too. Mum didn’t react, but we talked it over later and about how nice it was. What I didn’t tell her was that all it did was make me angry all over again. Not at them for having had a great scoutmaster – they all turned out to be good guys because they were given the extra attention they needed as youths. And not necessarily at my father for giving his time to them. They needed it, and it was something he wanted to do and was obviously very good at. But for making me second just because I was a girl. For having more time and patience for 500+ boys than one daughter.
I know there’s no use in being angry, and I’ve forgiven him. It still hurts, but I understand that there’s no fixing it, so it’s best to just let it go. And the biggest joke of all is that a lifetime of implications that I’d never be strong enough or worthy enough because I wasn’t male made me determined to be self-reliant, to prove my worth. It made me move away, not ask for a dime of help, work my way through school, and decide to never move back. Once I’d successfully managed to live on my own across the country, I decided to see what would happen if I travelled the world. And once that went pretty well, I decided to do it again and add a couple more countries. And again, and again, and again.
So in the end, I find that I am strong because of my father. That’s why I find his fear for me, as I embark on this adventure, to be rather insulting. I can be scared all by myself, thanks. All I’ve ever wanted is for you to be proud of me, and to think I’m as good as one of your scouts. Surely I have enough merit badges by now to prove my worth, right?
This post was written in response to today’s Daily Post prompt, “When Childhood Ends“.