Yesterday my dad flew home to Chicago after a long weekend trip to visit me and read books in the sunshine. While we Angelenos proclaimed the 60-70 degree temps "so fall" and "officially sweater weather," Dad smirked at all the stylish brooders in black knit beanies, slept with the window open, and donned short sleeves. On Monday night, after I left the office, we had a teriffic, one-for-the-memory-books dinner at The Ponte, Stephanie Bombet and Scott Conant's newish, Modern Italian restaurant in the part of town Dad suggested we refer to as "NQBH" -- Not Quite Beverly Hills.
And, of course, we dined al fresco. Sure, it was 60 degrees outside, but there were heat lamps and goddammit, we're Chicagoans. If you give us the option to sit outside, we take it.
I'd worried about how expensive the meal might be, scheming ways to keep the bill low. Two entrees, no cocktails, no desserts, and suddenly this would be a pretty average tab. My reasoning was simple: I knew my dad would be paying the bill, and I didn't want to drag him to a pricey place willy-nilly. If I could afford it, I'd have tried to pick up the bill myself, but as anyone who's eaten dinner with him can attest, this is easier said than done. I didn't want him to think I was taking advantage of his constant generosity just because it was his last night in town.
Dad had his own agenda for dinner though: get what we want. Have a cocktail, because look at this beautiful menu. Have a second cocktail. Have dessert. The plates were small after all. This was a celebration, life is for the living and, thank God, after decades of very hard work he can afford to take his daughter out for nice dinners during their short time together in LA.
Dad didn't SAY any of these things out loud. What he said, as I held the cocktail menu close to my face, weighing my many options like so much precious metal, was "you look like you're preparing for your bat mitzvah." And he laughed, and I laughed, because it was really funny and we were having the time of our lives.
I've been thinking today about the complex feelings I have around parental support, be it emotional (we talk on the phone nearly every day), moral (he firmly believes in my talent as a writer, reads my work and discusses it with me, and is the single loudest voice rooting for my success), or financial (I would be unable to pursue success in my chosen field without the privelege of a parental safety net). The simple fact is, my father's support and friendship is probably the greatest treasure in my life. Not all my friends can count on stability and sanity from their parents; few if any can count on the level of motivation, wisdom, and friendship I'm lucky enough to receive (and which I try very hard to return). I don’t take it for granted and I thank him for it all the time.
But “not taking it for granted” ignores the very beautiful way in which all those things ARE granted. That love and support? It’s not going anywhere. And yet, I let my gratitude morph into a kind of guilt that no one asked for and which is doing no one any good. Guilt that sometimes takes the shape of my deepest insecurity: that if I am not doing it “on my own” I am failing.
Where does this come from? Who taught me that I needed to do it all on my own? Is it an American society that teaches us that making it on your own is a necessary part of adulthood? Is it the fact that I'm an only child, and have a lot of learned self-reliance? Is it an inherited self-reliance from my pretty self-reliant parents? Or maybe (because all psychological self-evaluative roads lead back here for me), it has something to do with my mom's death. Some story I made up for myself about not wanting to be a burden.
(Don't trust the stories you tell yourself at 15. 15-year-old-you doesn't know shit.)
And maybe not. Maybe all this is bullshit psuedopsychology. The good news is, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that I more fully open my heart to the grace of Other People, which I know to be both abudant and only available if you allow yourself to seek it. What matters is that I earnestly try to put the myth of "you have to do it on your own or you're failing" into a box marked "Damaging: Please Incinerate." And with time, gratitude, love, and that open heart, I will set that damn box ablaze.
After dinner Monday night, I drove home, the radio tuned to KUSC, the classical station. I told my dad, honestly, that the amount of time we'd spent listening to this station while he was here (a lot) was not representative of how much I usually listened to it (only ocassionally). And then Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano concerto began, and I proclaimed, just as honestly, that it was one of my favorite pieces of music. The DJ's lead-in had prepared us for a unique and eye-opening rendition of the piece, and that's exactly what it was, so singularly soulful and dramatic that there were passages I barely recognized. I pulled into my parking garage, but the second movement had only just started. Without discussing it, I switched only the engine off, and we sat in the car, trying hard not to hum too loud over the rolling piano highs and lows of a piece that both of us, independently, had chosen as a favorite. And for just a moment, I stepped away from myself, took a look down at the scene from above, and felt exceedingly blessed to have been given so very many things in this world to love.