I put on my Dad’s jacket today and went outside. Life has changed a lot for me lately and I find myself living mostly in my own head. It’s a fairly nice place, but I needed a change of scenery. Outside with Dad’s jacket seemed just the ticket.
Dad’s jacket is the one thing I asked my Mom for when he died. If a fire ever happens in our little house I will save my family and that jacket. It’s nothing special–just a red windbreaker with the name of a college neither one of us ever attended embroderied on the side. I don’t even know where it came from, but I love it. I also have a sneaky suspicion it’s magic. I know it sounds crazy, but it might also be true. Let me explain.
When I put that shiny red windbreaker on I instantly feel calmer. I go outside. I look up at the sky. I crouch down and dig in the dirt until I find bugs and then I watch them. I sit on the rough steps of my hot tub and hold my little dog. I breathe the smell of her hot fur and whisper that I love her. I watch the waves of my pool reflect in the leaves of the red bush by the back door. I step down for a second from being in charge. I savor the freedom of taking a break from being the grown-up. I remember what it felt like to have a Dad standing watch.
I was married with two kids when my Dad died. I was a grown-up by the world’s standards, but not in that little corner of my mind that kept me balanced. As long as I knew Dad was out there somewhere zipping up that jacket I wasn’t really in charge. I could blow the whole thing and he would help me fix it. The world’s problems weren’t all mine. Dad was my go-to guy. Until he was suddenly not going to be there anymore. And, in those last moments when we use words as battering rams against what will happen anyway, I promised him I would take care of my family and I would take care of my Mom. And, I tried. Really, really hard. But, my kids still hit heart break and hard times. And, one crazy day, a nice doctor from India told us Mom had cancer.
I had promised Dad I would take care of her and I couldn’t. I could have ramps built and drive a thousand miles what felt like a thousand times and express mail her favorite tomato soup, but I couldn’t fix cancer. I couldn’t keep my two kids from hard things. I couldn’t do anything to make everyone feel better. I was the grown-up and I was blowing it. Then, my mom died too, and, suddenly, there really was no-one between me and the edge of the world. I could slide right off and that would be that.
I slowly realized my Dad must have felt the same way lots of times as he put on our jacket. He must of slid it on while he worried about bills and roofs on houses and whether cars would start. He must have adjusted the collar as he contemplated what he would do about his kids and our heartbreaks. He must have doubted he could handle it all. But, I never really thought about any of that then. Dad just stood strong between us and the edge. He was the hero. The bullet proof vest. The thing you could take for granted because it was so sure. So strong. He was the guy zipping up the jacket and taking care of things.
But, my word, he must have needed a break every now and then. He must have needed to go outside and study the bark of a tree like it was really, really important. He must have needed to lay on a diving board in the hot sun and watch planes fly over. He must have desperately needed to not be the guy in charge. Just for five minutes.
Now, I wish I could go back and help Dad with his load. I wish I could have treated him more like a person and not always just my dad. I wish.
I wish I would have gone outside with him. That we both could have watched the leaves blow, and listened to the guys across the street mow the lawn, and heard the kids two doors down yelling and laughing. I wish I would have stolen a few of those moments with my Dad and just been human with him. Two people taking time off from being the grown-ups. What a glorious thing that would have been. How dumb I was to not know.
That is the magic in the jacket. Now, I know. I know that those around us carrying our loads are just people. They get tired. They need rest. Figure out who they are and take them outside. Buy them ice cream. Go on a walk with them. Pick them flowers. Let them be a kid. I promise you when it’s over they will zip up their jackets and stand guard again. And, you will be their magic–the very, very best kind.