For some bizarre reason, I frequently forget that my parents had a life before my sister and I were born. I know that sounds horribly naïve and quite frankly, stupid, but I don't mean it literally. I mean it in the sense that I often don't think about my parents as the struggling 20-somethings they once were. Hungry hopefuls simply trying to find their respective niches in this big bad world.
If I look back to when I was younger, there was never a moment where I pondered my mother's first kiss was or my father's first job. I really only cared about how late I could push my bedtime, how many friends I could have over on Friday, and how much ice cream I'd be allowed to eat after dinner. To me, my parents weren't looked at as the people they are, they were just mom and dad -- only put on this planet to raise me as their child.
Now, you'd think after 20-some odd years of "knowing" them, I would actually KNOW them. And sure, I know their quirks -- what makes them angry, what makes them laugh, what they like to eat -- but that's not really what makes up who they are as a people, is it?
I still remember the day I really met my dad. We were sitting in the yard on a day we both had off, eating lunch while my mom was at work. The conversation started like every other generic father-daughter discussion, ranging from my plans that evening to my grades for the past semester -- I was still in college. And, as if it happened in slow-motion, the conversation took a turn. A turn that took me deeper and deeper into my father's history. His childhood. His good times. His bad times. His fears. In one conversation, my entire perception of him changed.
He told me about his first friends in elementary school. He said he had always missed them after he moved, he was only nine. He told me about working in his father's deli at 13. The deli was in Manhattan, in the heart of the Meatpacking district. He told me how his mother, my grandmother, had such a hard time selling the building in the '70s. Now, it's worth much, much more. How much time has changed things, he said. He told me about his horrific summer camp experiences. How mean kids can be. The stories sound generic to passersby but when he told me, it was like watching a classic movie for the first time. You know the actors very well and you almost know what they're going to say because you're sure you've heard the stories before, but it's the small nuances, the minutia of it all, that really keep the story moving and me, the viewer, entranced.
I had always known the big stories of his life -- his father, my grandfather, dying when he was 19, his brother's battle with addiction, his meeting my mom for the first time. These were the stories I knew like the back of my hand. I had heard them in passing, stories told at family functions and dinners with friends. When I was younger, I never cared to ask about the gritty details or the memories that came in between those huge events -- the true intricacies of my father's life. As the discussion in the yard that day progressed, more stories emerged and, like a broken record, I kept asking how I never knew any of this. His response was honest and simple: "You never asked."
Through one conversation I finally understood what narcissism really meant. Here was the man who raised me, who has made me who I am today, who has loved me unconditionally for my entire life thus far, and it took me over 20 years to understand who he really is. You never realize how selfish you are until you do.
So, while there are stories that I'll never know, the ones I do have become treasured keepsakes of the man I call "my dad"; and I just have one thing left to say: get ready, Mom, I'm about to start asking questions.