My father describes this episode as a defining moment in our relationship, a moment in which I realized that I could defy him. I enjoy this anecdote. I have constructed images of the event in my head, though I cant tell whether they are from memory or are the result of the storys retelling. And I like this idea of a defining moment. I am drawn to it because there has been so little definition in my relationship with my father.
In fact, I have always thought of my father as inconsequential. My mom raised me, teaching me lifes lessons, molding my character, guiding my journey. My dad has spent most of my life as a passive observer. He has been at my birthday parties and dance competitions, all the important events, but he never offers much more than his presence. Hes shy and reserved, comfortable to sit in silence and let life happen around him.
His passivity has grown with each year to the point that it is not just part of his personality but has affected his mental health, a change accompanied by a myriad of family conflicts and resentments uttered privately over cups of coffee and over the telephone. "If he were more with it, he would be getting more work." "He cant even get his bills paid on time." "If he had it more together, he wouldnt rely on passive-aggressive means of coping, like chewing nicotine gum even though he isnt a smoker."
When I was 20, I moved into my first off-campus apartment. My dad came to move me in. I was nervous. I didnt know how I felt about spending a week with him, especially a week in which I was making the emotional transition back into school. How would I manage? But we boarded the plane and were off to Chicago together.
During the days we moved in, my dad fixed doors and hung curtain rods while I cleaned and instructed. He took me shopping for furniture, food and household items and bought me whatever I felt was necessary. At night he took me out to dinner and we talked. We talked more than we had in a long time.
He told me how much he missed me my first year away at school. I told him how much that meant to me. I told him about my dreams to dance when I finish at Northwestern. He encouraged me to follow those goals and told me how much he wants me to be happy.
Suddenly a whole week had passed. As my dad was packing up to leave, he showed me how to use his power drill to hang my remaining pictures and shelves. He gave me the tools he had brought because he felt I would need my own now that I had an apartment. Then, when we were hugging and saying our goodbyes, something happened that never had before. I cried. I had never cried when I said goodbye to my dad, and now tears were streaming down my face.
I was really sad to see my father go.
This was another defining moment in our relationship, a moment in which I realized how lucky I am to have a dad who loves me unconditionally, who takes care of me in every way that he knows possible. I realized how lucky I am to have a dad who supports my goals and aspirations, whatever they may be, a dad who gives me a set of power tools and shows me how to use them.
At 2, I discovered how to defy my dad. At 20, I discovered how to accept him.
Lauren Lyster of Irvine, Calif., is a junior in the Medill School of Journalism, majoring in magazine journalism and gender studies. She hopes to return to the West Coast after graduating to pursue a career as a dancer and freelance writer.