“Learn to appreciate what you have before time makes you appreciate what you had.” ~Unknown
I’m a woman in midlife who thought she was set after a long successful career and the promise of financial security. I supported my own way through most of my life, fending for myself and then my two children, even during a 15-year marriage that ended badly and another that never really began.
For a number of reasons my plans for an early and secure retirement ended a few years ago. The long story is for another time; the short story is health, burnout, spiritual growth, reorganization…life.
A few months later, my oldest daughter announced she was engaged. I wanted to do for her what I always had been able to—give her what she wants—but I was no longer able to.
Now the wedding is only weeks away and the final plans and payments are being secured. More than we expected of course, despite her diligent attention to adhering to a modest budget.
“You don’t have to, but I was just wondering…if you can…can you send more money? If you can’t, it’s okay. We will spend our own money,” she requested by e-mail reluctantly.
On the one hand, I wanted to just say, “Yes, of course,” no questions asked; on the other, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to draw boundaries and to not do more than I was able.
But on the hand that holds my heart, she was my little girl about to get married, and I didn’t know how to say no.
But how could I say yes, with mounting medical bills, another year of tuition for my other daughter, and having found myself unemployed and unable to work for more than two years?
I had never done this before, but in a quizzical moment that felt something like an inspiration, I decided to call my parents.
My parents struggled financially for most of their life, but in their senior years they found themselves able to live fairly comfortably on their fixed incomes, with some money in the bank.
I had never asked them for help before, and at 54 years old—having taken care of my own needs without help my whole life—it felt like some sort of failure on my part to make this choice.
But for the sake of my daughter, I had to.
My Dad picked up the phone, as I had hoped he would, and my Mom was out, as I hoped she would be. Daddy’s little girl and all. A much easier appeal.
At first I felt so bad having to ask my Dad for money. I didn’t ask for much, but for a man who never was able to give much, not much is a lot.
I cried, and he tried to soothe me, hardly able to stand his little girl crying. Only now his “little girl” is 54 and he’s 80.
He’s starting to break down. Little things, I can tell. But still, we are father and daughter, you know?
He didn’t hesitate. He said he wished he could have done more. He said, “You are my flesh and blood.”
Then soon after, I stopped feeling bad. I think I actually started to believe I made him feel good. He got to be a hero today.
It’s still such a small gesture, but such a large one.
After I got off the phone I saw it all differently. There was indeed some goodness that came from my shame of not working and not making my own money right now—a chance to let him shine, to help. In a small way but a big way at the same time.
Suddenly, I felt glad that I’d asked, and that I hadn’t let my ego need to show up as strong and infallible outweigh my daughter’s need, my need, and my Dad’s (and Mom’s) willingness and ability to become a hero for our family.
I’m glad he got to do it. I’m thinking he needed to, in a way. Something for him to leave of himself before he goes.
This whole experience made me realize something else, which was even more profound. I’ve had my parents around for so long that I’ve been lulled into believing they always will be.
I’m lucky and grateful to be this age and to still have my parents—both of them to call on, and even more so for them to be there for me.
I have not given much thought to what it would be like to no longer have them, but this exchange gave me the opportunity to realize that I’m really going to miss them when they do pass on.
It will be strange and empty and weird when there physical presence is no more. In their own way, they have always been there, no matter what.
I think my Dad got to be a hero today. And my daughter gets to have the wedding she wants. And in some indirect way, I got to give each of these to both of them.
Give someone you love this chance if it comes up. Don’t view it as weak or vulnerable to allow someone to step into their light and glory, and to give of themselves in a way that makes them feel good.
Photo by Thejas