Dear me at 17:
You’ve got plans. You’ve always got plans. Your Dad knows this.
Your Dad has plans too. Nearly every weekend, he packs up the jeep and heads to the lakehouse.
Even though he knows you won’t agree, every weekend that he goes, he asks you to join him. He says “You know, you can come too if you want”. And, “I’ll even let you pick the movies” (as if that isn’t always the case).
You always ponder the decision for a while, weighing your options. But instead of going with him, you choose to stay in the city. You choose to go see a show, or go to a party, or visit your friends. Your Dad goes up to the lake, watches his movies by himself, and waits patiently until the next weekend to ask you again. The eternal optimist, your Dad.
I am going to give you some advice:
Pack up your overnight bag, bring your cd case and get in the car. It will mean more to you, and to him, than you could possibly know.
You are seventeen. You think that opportunities course in continually like waves, and that if you neglect to seize them, there will be many more to follow. You think that you are, and everyone around you is, immortal. You think that you will have plenty of time to spend with your Dad when you are older and more boring and don’t care so much about your social life. How I wish, with all my heart, that this were the case.
In eight years time, you won’t have the option to hop in the car with your Dad and take him up on his offer. You won’t be able to share your latest favorite song with him on the long ride to Muskoka. You won’t be able to listen to him tell his story about Louis Armstrong’s freezer full of ice cream for the millionth time (“Ugh, Dad, I know- you’ve told me this one!” “I know, but, isn’t that just great??”). And, you won’t be able to ramble on about whatever is the latest dramatic conflict in your life and have him listen, and genuinely be interested, and give you the best advice imaginable.
No matter how strongly you wish otherwise, your time with your father will have come to a close.
You have no way of knowing now, but your father is the glue in your life. He sits back, supporting you, always there to listen, quietly holding everything in your little universe together. He is not a tall man, but he makes you feel safer than anyone else will in your entire life. This is because he is the only person with the power to make everything okay. One hundred percent of the time.
Eight years from now, you won’t remember the show that you went to, or the party, or half your friends. Your teenaged social life, which seems so important to you now, will be a distant memory, with most of the details blurry at best. This might sound sad to you, but the fact is that as an adult, you won’t care enough to actively try to recall those details. The thirty odd times that you’ve seen The Slackers in concert will all blur into one giant show. And that will suffice.
On the contrary, eight years from now you will so deeply cherish each and every memory of your father that you will spend countless hours trying to recall every detail you can. You will replay his voicemail greeting in your head over and over, because no matter how silly, you’re desperate to hear his voice and it’s the only accurate snippet that you remember (“Hi, you’ve got my mailbox. Leave me a message”). You will pour over photos, emails and book inscriptions on the toughest days, just trying to feel close to him again; trying to imagine what life would be like if he were still there to hold your hand and tell you that everything will be okay. The little details will be all that’s left of this person who, to you, was larger than life.
I don’t mean to worry you. You will go on to live a very blessed life, full of love and laughter, even in your father’s absence. You will have an incredible daughter, a strong, supportive husband and a wonderful mother and brother who all love you very much. The earth will keep moving. Life will go on.
But please, take my advice on this one: Go to the lake. Hop in the car and spend some time with your Dad. Let him pick the movie. Listen to his Louis Armstrong story. Tell him how much you love him, and thank him for being the greatest Dad in the universe.
Just go. You’ll thank me later.