I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately. Seeing him show up in surprising ways like the face my son made at dinner last night in exactly the same way my father would have if he had been there. Or like when I was searching for a recent email in my inbox that I needed to respond to and my search pulled up a chain of correspondences with my dad about Christmas, the one that ended up being his last. Five years later I miss him. I don’t think that missing ever really stops. It just changes.
I remember when he was dying and we would go and sit with him and watch TV. I hated it. It felt like such a waste of time. I mean he’s dying and we are sitting and watching some bullshit TV show. I didn’t get it. I was uncomfortable. I was young. Nothing really made sense, and I was frustrated. I wanted to do something, but there was nothing for me to do, but sit there. Why did I need to be here to watch him watching TV?! I didn’t feel like I was needed. I felt like I was just in the way and that the best thing I could do was to be independent and on my own so at least I would be one less thing he needed to worry about. And there was plenty to worry about. So I left.
It was only after he died that I started to understand the value of sitting with people, on the phone or in person. Sitting with you means I value you, it means I don’t need you to be or do anything other than you are, it means even though I could be doing a lot of other things I am sitting here with you because you matter to me. This is a lesson I am learning again with my son. He is always wanting me to play Legos with him, but what playing Legos means is he plays Legos and I sit and watch. It. Is. So. Boring. And I often think: Why does he even want me here? He’s not actually playing with me. Sometimes I build my own creations, and sometimes I try to help him, but usually we play beside each other not with each other. I can last for about 20 minutes before the anxiety of everything else I could be doing while he is playing independently takes over and I creep away to do the laundry, write an email, etc. Then he usually ends up following me, asking me to come back and play with him.
What I’ve realized though is that he doesn’t really need me to play Legos (clearly he is quite skilled at this) he just wants me near, wants to be noticed, wants to know that I am there, that I will be there. So now when I’ve hit my max of sitting idle, I’ve started bringing the laundry into his room to fold, writing my emails or lesson plans or whatever while I sit next to him. He keeps playing, occasionally pausing to ask for assistance in locating a particular Lego piece or to show me his new invention.
It’s the same reason we ask friends to go shopping with us, why we want them at our sports events, why dancing is always more fun when my friends come along even if they don’t actually dance. Because I don’t need 100% of your attention 100% of the time. I just need you to be here, to remind me that I am real, that I matter enough for you to sit here with me whether I am happy, sad or too confused to even know what I feel.
I can’t sit with my dad anymore. I wish I had sat with him more, and that’s not something I can fix, but I am grateful that this experience helped me learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, with feeling inadequate and unproductive and to. keep. sitting. anyway. Quality time looks like a lot of different things, sometimes it even looks like sitting in silence next to someone you love because there really is nothing to be said, your presence is all that is required.