Putting My Dad Through Agony

17-year-old me ( right) with my roommate, as freshmen at Syracuse University. I stayed there one semester and came home, subsequently graduating from NYU. Don’t let the smile fool you. I was miserable.

When we’re young and not especially smart emotionally – aka self aware –  many of us have no earthly idea how our actions are impacting others. Or ourselves. And we do some pretty risky, hurtful, downright mean things that often help shape our future.

Even the best of us isn’t immune from behaving improperly, immaturely or impossibly illogically in our youth – and beyond.

If we’re lucky and introspective, we learn about ourselves as we move along in life. About the good and bad. And we act more and more like responsible grownups.

If we never become self aware, we can make the same dumb mistakes over and over, continuing to hurt ourselves and those around us. Our friends. Relatives. Colleagues. Bosses. Even strangers.

Of course, we can’t magically undo what we did 50 years ago, let’s say. But we can think hard about important situations from our past, superimpose them on our lives and people in the present, and see what we can learn ourselves or teach others.

This process is called a “thought experiment,” a phrase I never heard before, I’m embarrassed to admit. I learned it from my son after I messaged him the following random thoughts earlier this week:

My 42-year-old dad (why did everyone look older 50+ years ago??!!!) visiting me at parents weekend.

“When I had a breakdown as a freshman at Syracuse University, I was 17. My father was 42 (my son’s age today). I called him hysterically five times a day, often interrupting him when he was with a patient.

“I desperately needed him to talk me off the ledge. I never for a moment thought about him. Besides, he was incapable of dealing with an emotional, crazy person.

“Imagine if you had a nutcase 17-year old kid calling you at work five times a day.

“My poor dad. I put him through hell when he was so young. He wasn’t filled with joy in the first place – and then he had to contend with me.

“I wish he would come back for even a few hours so I could talk to him.”

And this was my son’s response:

“That’s an amazing thought experiment. Can’t believe he was only 42. I wish I knew him better.” (My son was 9 years old when my dad died. He was born on my dad’s 60th birthday!)


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