I believe that even though we may not admit it, my dad and I have learned things from each other over the last couple of years.
In a corner of my kitchen, almost out of sight, sits a small wooden board with the face of a man, a picture of a riverboat and a quote by Mark Twain. It went largely unnoticed by me until three years ago, when I turned fourteen and my father started referring to it regularly. The quote reads:
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But, when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
– Mark Twain
Back then I just rolled my eyes, but lately it has started to make some sense, which both scares and pleases me. Sitting here now, at age seventeen, I am absolutely sure I see the world clearly. At fourteen, I know I believed the same thing; but from my present standpoint of complete clarity, I see that at fourteen I was wrong and confused.
There has been some learning going on over the past few years, and to my astonishment (and chagrin), not all of it has been done by my father. As a matter of fact, I may have picked up a couple of things from “the old man”. I’ve learned to downplay my abilities rather than boast about them. I recognize that not everyone wants to talk about philosophy, nor do many share my appreciation for the beauty and purity of mathematics. Although it is great to have a desire to taste all the foods on the Indian restaurant menu or visit all the continents, those have to be long term goals and not short term objectives. My dad convinced me that it is important to be a gentleman. He showed me that it’s cool to know how to dance even though I had to learn how from my uncle in Grandma’s living room. I have also learned from my father’s mistakes: I will never ask a woman when her baby is due unless I am 100% certain that she is pregnant!
Contrary to the tongue-in-cheek quip, I have helped my father learn a few things also. He now supports my goal to join the Peace Corps after college, and he no longer laughs when I say that I plan to support myself in grad school by working as a stand up comic. Dad has learned to appreciate my love of science fiction, and even reads a couple of “those useless books” himself. He understands that solving puzzles before breakfast, playing midnight water polo, slack-lining in the backyard, and hosting an exchange student aren’t things that “interfere with my work,” but rather important parts of my learning and my life. He recognizes that I am responsible enough to travel by myself, manage a checking account and troubleshoot our computers. In other words, he has learned to trust and believe in me.
Still, there may be some things a father can never learn. I have been trying to teach my dad the incredible attractiveness of sagging my pants, but he’s having trouble catching on. I guess I’ll have to wait until I’m twenty-one and hope that his learning curve continues, as Mr. Twain predicted it would.
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