When I was in my late teens, I remember asking my father when you finally felt 'grown up.' I think I was still in college, or maybe starting graduate school and it was a confusing time in my life. My father has always been my best sounding board and I was frustrated that I felt I still needed his advice. When was I going to stand on my own two feet?
I will never forget his answer. He said he never felt fully 'grown up' until his own parents had died.
I am in my 40s, have a profession, a husband, two teen-aged children, make decisions large and small every single day. There are times when I still don't feel 'adult'.
I have been in south Florida with my parents this week. My father has been very ill. At 85, he is brighter, more articulate, and more incisive than many I know half his age, but he needed a knee replacement and the anasthesia knocked his declining kidney function into needing emergent dialysis. For the past several weeks, I have been coordinating his medical care, trying to get the doctors to talk to one another, trying to plot a course that will give my father the most independence and function as possible. At times, that has put me at odds with his medical caregivers and I have had to put my own fear aside and advocate for a man who always advocated for me.
I have a different answer to my father's question.
You feel fully 'grown up' when you take care of a parent in the way he or she took care of you.
Today, I rode shotgun while my father got in the car as driver for the first time in a month. We drove around deserted local streets and a parking lot. I still vividly remember my father taking me driving as a 15 year old, fresh from driver's ed. It was an odd juxtaposition and one I'm not entirely comfortable with.
I know there will be a day when my parents will no longer be in my life. Maybe on that day, I will understand what my father was telling me so many years ago. Maybe I already understand.