When I Grow Up

     Some months ago, I was stopped by an employee as I walked through the store.  The young man only stated that I had a very confident stride, and then he moved on.  There was no follow up offer to direct me toward my goal.  The kid was half my age, so this was no flirtation.  It was simply a random compliment from a stranger.  Who knows?  Maybe he was a theatre student just trying to be observant about the way people move.  I was focused at  the time, knew what I wanted to buy and where to find it.  So, chances are, I was moving in a direct fashion.  It wouldn't be unusual.  The comment threw me momentarily, but I found it amusing and continued my course with a smile.

     Now, months later, I still think about it.  For one thing, I am more conscious of the way I walk.  As a writer, naturally, I paid attention to all the ways people tend to move, and I wasn't unaware of my own tendencies.  But, now I'm even more inclined to notice it as I'm in motion.  The most surprising consequence is that it has me thinking of my father.  Once, a childhood friend observed him walking across a lawn and said, "Your dad walks like he's ready to draw a gun."  It was true - the appearance, that is.  His gun was at home.  My dad's appearance was often purposeful, serious and direct, even intimidating despite his small stature.  He was not the type to meander.  There was will in his stride.  He meant business.  Even now, he's a cantankerous old man despite his new fragility.  That random comment brought to mind a disconcerting similarity between us.

     It's not uncommon for women to fear becoming their mothers.  We grow up close to them, seeing the flaws other women rarely let us see.  As much as we may love our mothers, many women find it much easier to idolize someone they don't know as well, and they struggle against the traits they identify with Mom.  The idea of becoming her father rarely enters a woman's mind.

     For me, the relationship with my mother has never been such a source of anxiety.  Certainly, I've noticed similarities.  I've known her well enough to admire her good traits and live with her flaws.  While I do try to avoid making the same mistakes she's made, I'm comfortable with her nature.  I'm comfortable with who she is and what there is of her in me.  My father, on the other hand, has contributed to my nature mostly by providing a bad example, or so I thought.

     Lately, more and more incidents like this one at the store are making me aware of ways we are alike.  Self reflection as well as more time spent talking with him as an adult have uncovered qualities I thought were me, but are likely part of a family inheritance from Dad.  When you consider I spent most of my childhood certain that we were as opposite as two people can be, and that I would never act like him when I grew up, the realization can be disturbing.  Still, I'm finding it's not all bad, just unexpected.

     He has directness.  It's not just the way he walks.  My dad won't generally beat around the bush.  If something needs to be said, he'll say it.  It's not so comfortable being on the receiving end of the opinions, particularly when they're made with half the facts, but you have to admire the openness.  He's a look-you-in-the-eye and don't-care-if-you-don't-like-it kind of guy.  I think he probably learned the behavior from his mother, a tough old woman who famously "flew the bird" for the camera in a group photo at the family reunion in her 80s.  Neither of them had any fear about letting you know what they think.  While I'm not usually as free with my opinions, and I may be more open-minded about considering alternatives, I have been known to be blunt when it comes down to it.

     Another quality we share is our distaste for small talk and gossip.  Dad lives in a small town, in an apartment building for seniors, and the prevalence of rumors, gossip and general chatter is a constant irritation.  Like me, he tends to skirt the usual social hubub.  Still, it's clear he cares about people.  He may be crusty, but he's the first one to offer to help a neighbor or even a stranger in need.

     Both of us appreciate things that are simple and natural.  We enjoy being outdoors and active.  we admire old-fashioned skills and have a certain disdain for the unnecessarily complicated.

     Notably, my dad hates to be cooped up inside.  It's not that he lacks in that area or doesn't know what to do indoors.  I've met few more voracious readers, and he can occupy himself quietly for hours with a book.  His biggest problem is that he's read everything he's interested in at his local library.  He just hates the limitation of having to be inside.  He hates the boundaries placed on his freedom by illness and age.  When he was first released from the hospital after his lung collapsed, he was trying to plan a way to strap the oxygen tank to his saddle while he rides so that his saddlebags would be free for beer.  Humorous though it may be, it speaks to his desire to keep moving.

     I have a feeling I'll feel similarly "trapped" as time goes on.  Already, I have trouble slowing down for injury or illness, preferring to keep working through whatever condition.  When that's not possible, I resent the limitation, just like Dad.  Today, I'm home from work with a combination of symptoms and conditions I don't consider life-threatening, things that wouldn't prevent me from working.  In my opinion, I'm on my way up and out of it.  However, yesterday while feeling a little better, I went full-force into the chores I'd been neglecting and suffered a little backslide.  So today, against my instincts, I'm forcing myself to do nothing active, and the limitation is maddening.

     I suppose that's a common enough reaction.  Nobody really likes the idea of losing their youth and strength.  Many of the signs of aging that others fear, the gray hairs and wrinkles and landmark birthdays, have never bothered me.  Generally, the idea of being old has not been the boogeyman for me that it is for many.  But, I know when I get to that age when my world starts to shrink as my body betrays me, I'm going to be just as angry about it as my dad.  Like it or not, I am my father's daughter.


  1. You would hate NYC for sure haha!! I'm glad to be done with the semester so I can get back to reading your posts. I'm looking forward to the day when I get to be a bitter old coot. Now, I'm just a bitter coot minus the old. You do have a very purposeful stride, but you also move your hands in a certain way that strongly speaks of your imagination. It reminds me of when my sister Rebecca used to leap around the yard pretending to be a unicorn. I was told I "sashay sexily". This threw me, knowing not at all what the person was talking about, and ever since I've tried to walk like a man.

  2. Thanks. And, with all admiration, you are the most bubbly bitter coot I know.


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