Thursday, March 15, 2012

Conversations with My Father (Part Deux)

I think sometimes I over think things when it comes to my life - the romantic aspects of it. Clearly, finding yourself rolling head first down a hill in the rain with your best friend, doesn't exactly paint a picture of the "well examined life". Then again, judging on your viewpoint, perhaps it does. But I digress.

I blame it on my parents. They have given me such high standards both in the example they themselves set and the way they raised me to never to settle, to strive for excellence and whatever you do....don't marry the wrong person. As such, I put such weight into these issues that many times i find myself staggering beneath it. It’s a hard realization to know that there's no book I can read, no test I can take, no instruction manual to follow step by step in order to arrive at a good and happy life.  

My heart has been hurt so much over the years that I have learned to instinctively distrust it, working hard training my brain the dominant & more trustworthy of the two organs. But, in the end, I don't believe there's any perfect answer. No silver bullet. No cheat sheet. I'll just have to take the best information I have and use it to make the best decisions possible. And when I still feel that information lacking, I ask my father for his advice.

My latest query was to ask if it "bothers him that he and my mother don't share a lot of the same interests" (stoic history PhD marries bubbly elementary school teacher) and whether or not he's found that an obstacle to be overcome in their marriage. 

Ever the thoughtful professor, he penned a reply which I have included below. Frankly, I believe the sentiments are universal and everyone loves a bit of fatherly wisdom. 

Thank you, dad.

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Hi Sweets.  I've been a bit bothered by your question the other day, inasmuch as I do not think I answered it very well.  So I will try, briefly, to expand a little.
We like to think that we should have long-range plans for our lives, and while we are encouraged to do so and need to do so, the reality is mostly aspirational.  The reason for this is simple: we change as we grow older.  And as we change, our likes and dislikes change, goals change, financial circumstances change and so those plans must change as well. 
The future is a mystery with respect to many things, but especially with this abstraction called 'happiness'.  Most people in this world have never experienced it, I am convinced, and have made their lives commensurately miserable in the pursuit of it.  For 'it' itself is myriad in its forms and seems as fleeting as gossamer.  Yet it doesn't so much 'flee' as 'evolve' as we grow older.  The happiness of youthful passion inexorably gives way to the warmth of familiarity and sentimental attachment.  The happiness of watching a child grow, will give way in time to the stark reality of anxious nights, emotional conflict and a life-long uncertainly over the fate of that child.  The initial paternal giddiness gives way to celebration, dread, satisfaction and second-guessing, as life gives and takes its rewards and its tolls. But that's the whole point of living isn't it? 
You asked me whether I wished Mom knew more history, and the answer is: of course I do.  But I knew that history was not her strong suit when I married her.  Instead, I looked to her character, her maternal instinct, her loving nature, her eternal innocence about many things.  Where is the guarantee that a history degree would have come with all those?  Does that mean that, perhaps, I am not as happy as I could be?  Probably.  But then who is, outside the silly movies which have distorted our perspective on such things?  The familial detritus which litters the twenty-first century social landscape provides ample evidence that most people never find their ideal.  And while that may rule out attainment of the will-o-the-wisp we call 'happiness', it hardly makes impossible the more achievable, stable and nurturing objective: contentment.  And if, in the end, I can say that I am content with the way I've lived my life; that will be compensation enough. 
I hope this helps.  Didn't mean to go on.  And I certainly don't mean to tell you what to do, or what decisions you should make.  I said my piece enough as I was raising you.  It's up to you now.


Heather said...

Your dad seems great. I love when you share his letters.

I share your sentiment that our parents did such a great job with us and their marriages that it makes it very difficult to consider accepting anything less and he so clearly defines why it worked. I wish them continued happiness.

treacle said...

I hope his letter helped you as much as it is helping everyone that reads it :o)