When my grandfather died, my father gave a beautiful eulogy. In it, he focused on key character traits that epitomized his father: his work ethic, his love for family, his kindness to strangers, and some quirky manifestations of his moral code. In the years that followed, my father emulated those traits in a way that I observed to be exaggerated, almost like political cartoons. He would say, over and again, as my dad would have said or as my dad would have done, and I wondered why the repetition as we all knew these traits were from grandpa.
Walk a mile in my shoes. Take a walk in their shoes. Imagine walking a mile in his or her shoes.
Now I get it. Why is so much of life like that? We don’t get it, we categorize behaviors as odd, disordered even, irritating maybe, and then, boom, it all clicks into place and what seemed irrational becomes the only rational option.
All children want to make their parents proud and for some reason this seems to be an even greater drive with fathers. The drive is so strong that we feel this need even more after they’re gone. We want to show them that they did the job right, that we get it now, all of those lessons they tried to model and more actively drill into us. Their actions weren’t in vain. We emulate the traits we define as most characteristic of them. We remind ourselves and others that they are their traits because each time we speak the words, we re-perform the material bond that bound us to our fathers. Each repetition puts another link in a chain that must be maintained in a way that was not necessary when one could just look at the two of us and see we were father and child (all three of us shared a deep cleft in our chins–butt chins my children call them). If we stop repeating, stop building the links, the chain dissolves because no one will see it but us. We emulate those traits, exaggerating them to near caricature, as a child traces a favorite figure over and over and over, making the lines darker and darker to make it stay, to make it real.
What else will I get later? What other mysteries will be revealed at some future date? Is that what religions promise in the afterlife–a giant click as we get “it,” whatever lesson the god was trying to teach us? Or is it just that all of the lessons from all of our experiences finally click–that is the god, our experiences with one another and with the world?
Big questions. I guess I’ll keep waiting for the click. And building my chain.