This is part of a writing exercise dictated by this list. It may benefit you to read it if you seek to know me (or merely someone) better; it may benefit me in the selfsame way. And if knowledge of others is your goal, seek out Anna, whose list prompted mine, and Kimi, whom Anna credits for said list.
What character traits do you admire most about your parents?
I’m not positive whether my mother knew how ironic her question was when she nonchalantly inquired on our way home from church Sunday whether I had abandoned the fifteen day thing. I told her no, I’d just been busy; it was suspended, not cancelled, and I planned to get around to it. What I didn’t tell her (and wasn’t sure if she knew, had checked the list to see) was that the next day on the list was meant to be in part a praise of her, and she was indirectly asking me to get on with it already.
I give my parents quite a bit of grief, to be sure, both overtly and unintentionally. Always in my subconscious is the title of a subpar Matthew McConaughey rom-com called “Failure to Launch,” a fitting descriptor of me, their eldest son, who squandered his money and spent the last 11 months living in his parents’ basement, unemployed in every sense of the word, his prospects of every parent’s dreams for their child — success, progress, marriage — dwindling in the rearview mirror.
Of course all that looks ripe to change next week, but even if it didn’t I’d have much to be thankful for in my parents.
I’ll start with you because you wanted me to, and though it’s not a character trait I’m incredibly thankful (as all writers might be) that even if no one else follows what I have to say here, you are my constant reader. I still have hanging on my (soon to be not my) bedroom wall the frame within which I arrayed the dozen or so notes you wrote for me to find before, after, or during school, or on trips, adorned with smiley faces and the word “love” to remind me that, no matter what sort of child I was, you cared about me.
You put up with so much crap all the time, and your ability to push through that, to never give up, to always bounce back, is something to which I must always aspire but never hope to attain. I’d have exploded, stormed out, quit halfway through most of the challenges you deal with daily. Certainly I’d have given up on church, on what would to me have become a facade. But you persevere, and you’re the greatest example I have of what that word means. Every Sunday you’re in the pew, hands uplifted, reaching out to God for the strength and peace and joy you need. Your dedication never ceases to inspire me.
You work more or less full time, a thing which you never fail to remind us of (well, me, anyway, usually when I ask once more what’s for dinner), but you’re not doing it for selfish reasons. You aren’t going out on shopping sprees and spending your evenings at restaurants with your friends; all that money is going towards making sure Joshua and Rachel have the gift that I’ve never properly appreciated: a mouth full of teeth that look like teeth and not brambles. Your sacrifice for your family is overt and obvious, and even if I fail to show it I’m grateful for what you do and who you are.
You are always there when I (or, really, anyone) need someone to talk to, always trying to help in whatever way you can. You have a servant’s heart through-and-through. You are easy to relate to. You always endeavor to understand. You apologize more often than you’re wrong, and you do all things with love. Thank you.
I’ve tried for a long time to come up with a proper metaphor for our relationship, for it ebbs and flows between high-tension explosions and docile, friendly familiarity. Often we erratically jump between the two, fighting and then going out to eat and watching a movie and then fighting again. We clash for many reasons, but they are all part of one thing: I am your son, and as that woman said, you’ll never be able to deny paternity.
I envy your industriousness. Your commitment to work once you’re involved is truly inspiring, and I get to see the strains you don’t let other people see when the job — be it secular or church-driven — becomes truly stressful, and how you deal with them. You aren’t one to throw in the towel or throw your hands up in surrender. You see problems and you find their solution, even if it takes hours, days, or weeks to figure them out. Whenever anyone has a problem, they come to you — and although I know you’d like a break every once in a while, you never turn people away. How many times have I seen you sweating over someone else’s car or computer, sometimes late into the night? I’ve lost count. What I haven’t lost is the general unwavering image: a man devoted to the job, seeing it through, and proud to see it finished well.
You are always on top of the latest technologies, which isn’t itself a bragging point but points to something else, something greater: your ability to adapt and learn quickly. The reason you remain at your job while other, younger people disappear is because those people know things primarily because they’re immersed in them; you know them because you take the initiative to learn them and learn them well. Whenever I need a glimpse of the future, what I’ll need to do to prepare for it, what choices I ought to make, I need only ask you, because you’re on the bleeding edge and see the tissue of the world before we cut through it.
It’s not just the future, though, because when I look into every big moment in my past, you are there, and that’s not something every son can say. Moreover, your presence in my life is a comfort rather than a bane. Where we’ve clashed, it’s mostly because you’ve pressed me to be better than I am — to work, to learn, to be a person who won’t settle for mediocrity but actually wants to improve for improvement’s sake. You still want me to do great things, to be someone who makes a mark on the world, and wherever you find a way to help me get there, you take it. Thank you.
I know there are a lot of shadows in our past, a lot of scars which hurt when we look at them. But at the end of the day I’m still proud to have you as my parents, still proud to be your son. I don’t say “I love you” often enough, but perhaps, soon, my life will say that for me, a living testimony to the fact that you did not fail to raise your son; that, after a few malfunctions here and there, we have “go” for launch. Mission accomplished. Over and out.