This is a Mistake
Reflection on Father’s Day
It is always there, lurking, but fleetingly, as if the tendrilled remnants of some dream, or like a mayfly buzzing too close to the river’s dark surface—small, fitful, gone—no ripple of the dream from which even to rise, nothing to dream of at all. In the absence, this one question: Is this a mistake?
As we travel about this country-island state, a millennia or more in the making, the mix of new (ours) and ancient (their) history, just raising any doubt whatsoever feels like an act of insurrection. A conspiracy. Treason. After all, can’t everything be considered a mistake until it isn’t? Even just leaving the house could be one if you find you’ve locked the door and left your keys inside on the counter. Which is kind of how I feel about this Father’s Day. As if we left something behind.
They say that a child’s greatest burden in life is the unlived lives of their parents. I don’t know if that’s true or not but there isn’t any doubt that having a child alters the future in ways that can only be called life changing. Nothing from that moment forward is easy to predict, and often more difficult to explain, so categorizing “what could’ve been” as unlived feels, I don’t know, a little harsh on the parent. But I get the sentiment. We are all, after all, only human, as must do, in the words of Maya Angelou, the best we can until we know better and when we know better, we do better.
It is the last part of that advice where things get messy.
For many years of our adult lives, the controls seem set on autopilot. Childcare. Careers. Education. Even recreation. Things are moving along, but who is in control of them? Your employer? Your kid’s schooling? A mortgage or landlord? Certainly, it shouldn’t be the neighbor.
By the time we have lived enough experiences to know better…well, again, what might’ve been feels a bit cruel and unfair. As if living the unfinished life were a thing our society encourages or even makes possible without some great unsettling of expectation. Society doesn’t want better. Society wants Same. So when you know better, do better, unless doing better goes against what everyone else is doing. That seems to be the more common mantra, which brings me back to this tiny mayfly of a question: Is upending our lives, and those expectations, in America for Sicily a mistake?
We are here now, yes, I know, and the question comes and goes like recalling a dream. But even dreams can sow their doubt.
I thought I was ready when we closed the bakery. Why stay with no business to keep us? And again two months later when we sold the house, then parted with the furniture. And finally having said goodbye to family, we sold the car and all we had left to our names fit into two shoulder bags and a pair of large duffle backpacks. That’s really when it hit me, as we were sitting at the gate, waiting to board the plane: What on earth are we doing?
It wasn’t just a set of keys on the counter we were leaving behind. It wasn’t even a thing. It was who.
Our three children were supportive of our move, though two of them are still in their twenties, both totally immersed in the challenges of figuring out their own lives and so leaving felt like abandoning them in this critical time. The other is newly married, and with us close enough by to be eyewitness to the beginning of something special in his young life.
Was this really a good time to do better for ourselves?
Spend any time at all considering the topic of human migration and you will likely arrive at the same question. What exactly on earth drives anyone to give up any creature comforts they might have enjoyed for the uncertainty of the savannah, the tundra, the desert, maybe often all three. What compels them to conquer mountain and water, incredibly—somehow—on foot, all for a life of the unknown. No guarantee that the new home they find wherever they stop will be any different or better than the one they were willing to abandon.
What possessed them? Was it for lack of food or fear or some other kind of threat? Were they driven out by a stronger, more devilish tribe? It’s hard to believe whatever propelled them to pick up and leave had anything to do with longing, purpose or the search for a place more accommodating to their needs.
Or did they move simply because it is in our nature, our DNA, to explore, to chart new paths and blaze new trails, to climb higher peaks, all just to know what waits on the other side?
I don’t really have the answer, but I do know that what I want for my children is not to feel trapped and tied down by anyone’s expectations other than their own. Life is shaped enough already by the opinions of others too small for them. I want the world they make for themselves to be harnessed to people and experiences that bring them more alive, that make them ask not Why, but Why not.
They say failure is not falling down but refusing to get up. You don’t learn that by keeping in step. You learn that by stepping outside the lines, through trial and error and the many revelations one has about life and how best to live it. And yes, while it may be that you can learn it as well from the unlived lives of your parents, on the path to becoming your own audacious self you'll discover the answer is less important than having to ask the question.