Today is the anniversary of my dad's passing. Wait! Before you scroll past...this actually will have a point beyond just being kinda sad, I promise.
His death was sudden, and caught all of us off-guard and uncertain about what the future holds and how to deal with it all. I guess this isn't strange when a loved one dies from a heart attack.
That night, when I finally managed to fall asleep, I had an unusually vivid dream:
I was in a turbulent and grey sea, being battered by waves just off a coast that was just a high cliff-face of jagged rocks. I could hear the boom of the waves smashing against the wall of the cliff, so clearly there was no safety there.
My dad was with me, and together we treaded water for a while. Then, silently, my dad turned and started swimming away from me, towards the cliff face. I tried to scream at him to stop, to not leave me alone, to not go towards to danger, but my voice was too tiny against the storm and waves. He just kept going until I couldn't see him anymore and I was left alone.
Uncertain and destabilised.
My dreams are rarely this obvious: My dad had left me to fend for myself in this tumultuous world.
But in the years since his passing and since I had that dream, I've had some time to gain some clarity about the situation. My dad leaving was not the cause of the storm - that was happening regardless of what either of us did.
Also, it didn't seem like he wanted to leave, but had to. That's why he didn't say anything to me - what could he say?
Finally, yes, I was left alone, but I wasn't sinking. I wasn't drowning. I was strong enough to stay afloat, despite the waves and the storm. Maybe he left because he knew I was strong enough, even if I didn't?
The big takeaway:
At this time of the year I can't help but think about my dad, and what he and I have in common when it comes to parenting. I also think about that dream a LOT.
Ultimately, I come to this conclusion: life can be a scary, stormy ocean. And for a while, our job is help our kids stay above the waves, then it is to teach them how to float. And if we get that right and have some time left, we could even help them catch some waves in a way we never could.
At the end of it all, our job is make sure that when we eventually are forced to leave them, that they know how to keep their heads above water.
My dad did that for me, and I sure as hell plan to do that for my sons. I might start building a boat for them. (An important note: I felt alone in the dream. In reality I had family and friends - including a girlfriend who would become my wife - who supported me then and continue to do so now)