It takes us a long time to realize that our parents are people. They have unknown pasts, and they too were young once, just like you. Life took them on adventures; there were lovers, friends, inner turmoil, and passions that moved them from one point to the next. It’s so easy to remain ignorant to these bits and pieces that make up who your parents are. If you never ask, you might not hear, and if you’ve never hear, you may never really know the people who raised you.
I'm personally very fascinated to hear my parents' old storeis. I see two people who made it a point to pave a path distinctly for themselves and not for anybody else. I envy their bravery, and at the same time, I identify with it.
In my continuing quest to get to know them, I recently convinced my father to take a trip with me. On our way home from visiting family in Italy, we made a pit stop in London to retrace his old footsteps. A friend still owns the house he rented when he was a young spiritual hippie living in London during the 70’s. We went and stayed with her — my dad sleeping in his old bedroom, and myself on the first story in her acupuncture treatment space. During our visit, we walked around London, enjoying the parks he used to meander through and retracing his steps to places he once frequented.
Perhaps most satisfying of all, we spent time with his friends and talked about old times. I heard stories of friends who had died, the concerts they enjoyed in the park, and the worries that were on their minds. They looked back on fifty-some years, and I got to sit there, listening to the stories of their lives. I found myself envious of all the places they'd been. The solo treks through China, the gatherings at a Tuscan villa. I wanted their wisdom. I wanted to be able to talk about life like someone who's seen it all. They'd each gone through so many things. Changed careers, survived diseases, fallen in love — hardship after victory after hardship. Here I am, racing along the path of life. I think, "that can't be me." But before I know it I'll be right there with them; looking back on the memories.
Needless to say, I was immensely stricken by this little meander into my father's past. I fell in love with his friends. I wanted to cry at their stories, and at the same time, I was really proud of my father for attracting such special people. For all the times I want to reject where I come from. For all the times that I can only see the faults in my father. This undid them. He's a good man — a true friend, a thoughtful person, and hey, he can identify just about any tree you're bound to come across. I'm glad I had the opportunity to return with him to London, to get to see the world through his young hippie eyes. It was a very transformative experience.
I tell you this story, so that while you have the chance, you too will make it a point to uncover who your parents were when they were young. Visit the places they visited. Stay in the places they lived. Talk to the friends that they made. Take a walk through your parents’ footsteps, so you can bring yourself closer — to them, and ultimately, yourself. The look into the past will propel you down your own road, wherever that may lead.