When I shared with my father that I, a 20-year-old graduate student, would be volunteering in Nicaragua during spring break 2007, his response was, in a word, strong. I explained that I would be working with orphans. No give. I emphasized the poverty that the children faced. No give. I told him that I was ready to see the world. No give.
I couldn’t see it then, but his anger and painful disapproval originated from a place of love.
I consider myself blessed that many of my favorite memories from my childhood include my father. The smell of cotton saturated with sweat, the hum of an electric drill, and the discomfort of wet shoes always transport me back to a simpler time when my father was my guide, my leader.
Somehow, however, shooting hoops and shopping for our family Christmas tree grew irrelevant. As a teenager, I found it difficult to connect to my father. He never finished college, chewed tobacco, and was emotionally aloof. His temper was also too theatrical for my tastes. In the end, I made the conscious decision each day to distance myself from an individual that I was scared of becoming.
Parenting, however, has this really sweet, yet annoying way of making you do things you swore you never would. To my great surprise, having children has inspired me to know the stories of my parents, and I attempt to do so every opportunity I am with them. Often this involves me talking over a television I have no interest in watching.
Many years have passed since my 2007 service trip, but it was on Nicaraguan soil that I experienced the first stirrings of motherhood. It also opened my eyes to the globe, which has informed where I have lived and what I have chosen to pursue.
As one who has refused to leave the Eastern Time Zone, my father cannot understand a significant part of my story. This, I would argue, is one of the hardest parts of growing up: you can’t take your parents with you.
Something about watching my alma mater play football recently conjured up memories of old in my father, as he asked, “What do you want to know?”
I want to know everything, Dad, but I’m not sure where to find that kind of time.
I settled for an inquiry into his numerous (and often short-lived) career endeavors. In the midst of a long and varied list of jobs, one caught my ear:
“I used to work at Blue Bird and make buses.”
It was a moment that I didn’t see coming. When I was in Nicaragua, the orphans and volunteers were shuttled around in old American school buses. The one we traveled in throughout my trip had, ironically, been made in my little hometown in the mountains of Virginia. And just like that, the timelines aligned. My father likely helped build the vehicle that carried me to the other side of innocence.
Perhaps that is what I will do one day for my children – strengthen them with rich moments of childhood, lead them to the door of experience, and encourage them to traverse the great divide that will forever separate us. In the shadows, I hope that I can let go – just as my parents did.
And, if I am very lucky, the bus that takes my children away will find a way to bring them home. My stories will be waiting.