Who do you know? | Moment's Notice


February 13, 2020

Yesterday, my mom forwarded an email from a good friend of my dad’s saying, “This brought back memories.”

The message recalled a visit here that included a three-hour drive from Vancouver, British Columbia, in the pouring rain with broken windshield wipers. My dad was not the technically inclined sort to stop at an auto supply store to fix the windshield wiper.

I remembered the visit, but never knew the story of the road trip to Vancouver or the broken windshield wipers.

I also spoke to my uncle yesterday, and he told me about the time my dad took one of my uncle’s paintings to a Kinko’s to make copies and enlargements of certain parts of the artwork.

My dad saw something in the brushstrokes and wanted to study and discuss it in detail, so he faxed the images to my uncle, with notations of what he saw. My dad would fax me things all the time – mostly cartoons or articles – and I had not heard the story of the faxed paintings.

A friend of my dad’s recently told me he had run into a mutual friend of theirs and had slipped into a conversation of my father’s “isms,” wisdom delivered with humor and staggering insight. I do not know all of the “ism’s” of my father’s.

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday, and it has been a day of our memories since he passed away six years ago.

The memories I have, though, are so very limited when I think of the lifetime of conversations, discoveries, studies, pursuits, and affections that my parents had together, or that my dad had with his closest family and friends.

The majority of these were not witnessed by his beloved and adoring daughter. Over the years, I have not questioned my memories of him, but rather realized their limitations.

I knew my father through my eyes. I knew my father as a father, but also in his role as a husband. My parents were a unit throughout their lives, and although they had independent friendships and relationships, their existence as a strong, loving couple permeated their connections.

When my dad died, my mom and I had to learn a new way of knowing my dad, of knowing each other, without my father as part of the relationship. In the years since, I have become more aware of what I thought I knew about my mom or dad, as opposed to what I actually know.

Granted, that realization of ignorance grows stronger every year of our lives, but when it comes to how well we know our parents, it is directly related to the person we have become.

Psychologist Carl Jung posited that children grow up trying to fill in gaps we perceive in our parents lives with how we live our own. Psychologists also say that most humans, when observing others, interpret their experiences as we have or believe we would experience the same situation. (Our brains have evolved to react that way because we are safer when we empathize with each other.)

But when considering what we think we know about our parents, or anyone, our limited interpretations and incomplete memories paint an unfinished picture in our minds.

Jung also said that, “The father exerts his influence on the mind or spirit of his daughter by increasing her intellectuality, often to a pathological degree.”

My father certainly encouraged me, and his intellect was beyond unique, but I have realized that any gap I may have perceived in my dad was immediately filled with an intellectual or social justice interpretation.

On the other hand, when considering how I interpreted my mom’s point of view, I often internalized her high expectations of humanity as criticism of me or as simply unrealistic measures. Once I stopped to question myself, I realized there is so much I did not and do not know that made my mother her brilliant, fiercely strong, and utterly sensible self.

I believe my grandmother gave her a disdain for the frivolous or inattentive, as I have heard many stories of people who were told of their shortcomings.

My mother, though, has such faith in human potential, combined with kindness and protectiveness, that she reacts when injustice or circumstance prevent loving relationships or joy.

Misinterpretation and spotty memories may be a function of our psyches but choosing to search for what is unknown can bring so many rewards.

It turns out that memory of the trip to Vancouver was not only an amusing anecdote about broken wiper blades. My mom took the time to share that the trip impacted my parents “for the rest of their lives.”

It provided a deeper knowledge and curiosity of First Nations culture through the Haida totem poles, which are similar, I just learned, to the totems of the Taino culture from Puerto Rico, where they were born.

So perhaps the way to nurture our relationships, and create news ones, is to avoid looking through the lens of what we think we know.


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