This Father’s Day came and went. Inspired by Mohamed Omar, I set out to write about my dad, but I found myself at a loss for words. Instead, frustrated by all of the Father’s Day commercialism on social media, I went to Tierpark, the zoo of former East Germany, and relaxed with a beer and a friend and watched elephants play.
It doesn’t get easier as time goes on, and my feelings have only become more complicated over time. What would my father think of Donald Trump? About Edward Snowden? Why didn’t I ask him about X, Y, or Z when I still had the chance? Would he be annoyed or proud to know I donated money to MSF in his name? The unanswerability of this questions eats at me sometimes.
And then sometimes I’m fine. Far away from my childhood home, my relationship with my mother happy and stable though at a distance, I often feel secure in my new normal. Having reached total self-sufficiency just shortly before I lost my father, it’s as if this phase were an inevitability. I’ve relished that independence, and am proud of my accomplishments.
I was 29 when my father died. I was a pretty awful teenager, but by the time I returned to the Boston area in 2007—the only time in my adult life we lived close by—we were on good footing. When I was in college, he would come visit, and always leave a 12-pack of beer. One time I completely ran out of cash on a snowy drive home and he met me at the Hampton tollbooth, forty-five minutes from home. We bonded on trips to Morocco and Amsterdam, and on visits home in the summer, when we’d get up at the crack of dawn to trawl rich people’s yard sales.
He was proud of me; I know so because he told his nurses. In the end, as his thoughts became more and more delusional (a side effect of his disease), he would tell them about my work and my travels. One time, they asked my mother whether I was really in Tunisia, or if my father had made that up. I was, we laughed through the tears.
A lot of my friends have lost a parent in the past few years. Inevitably, our friends will start to go, too. The brevity of the life cycle and all that. It can make one feel rather…useless.
But here’s what I’ve come to realize: Whether you are optimistic or hopeless about the state of the world, whether you want to throw yourself into trying to change it or sit back to watch it burn, you have to take care of yourself. I don’t mean that an individualistic, each one for their self sort of way. What I mean is, that when it’s tempting to work yourself to the bone or let yourself whither away in front of the television, don’t. Do something nice for yourself, or if you can’t manage that, for someone you care about. Reach out to someone who, for whatever reason (barring egregious harm), you’ve lost touch with. If you have parents you love, call them. If not, call someone else who fits the bill. If you need help, seek it out. And don’t feel guilty for enjoying your time.
I often fall into the latter camp, for what it’s worth. Despite, or sometimes because of my work, I lose hope. But the biggest waste of life, I think, is to spend it angry.