I look the same as I did last year, the year before. Maybe even better, younger. But there's an innocence that's gone from my eyes. I didn't notice it as it was passing. I just shocked myself today by glancing at an old photo and failing to recognize the eyes in it.
Lately I've been thinking about my dad again. How I always felt that I failed him and in so doing, failed myself. The truth is I just never got over being self-absorbed and naive long enough to listen to him when he had something to say. I'll credit my mom for that; certainly a woman who's still very naive and doesn't listen well can't teach someone else to do better. But it's more than that.
I suppose I thought my dad was immortal. He was a Vietnam veteran, he was a school teacher, a historian, a methodical thinker, a puzzle solver. He was a hero in a grandiose way to me, and I never bothered to do much more than scratch the surface as to why.
When I wasn't proud of him, I was crying because of him. I never grew enough backbone to just learn from him and let the rest pass like water off a duck's back.
So even in his death, my wide-eyes innocence was untainted by any greater self-discovery. Even two months after his death, four months, the reality of my own potential and the wake of what he tried to teach me had not yet begun to sink in.
Yes, he treated me like another of the young men under his command -- a horrible grievance and disservice to a would-be "daddy's princess", but he did it with the only love he knew how to give.
That I never learned how to accept that love unconditionally while he was alive was my disservice to him.
My face looks the same now, but my eyes look more like my dad's. Not a lot more, but a little. I'm beginning to understand things that I should've begun to grasp years ago. I remember one day, not long before he died, that I said jokingly over some then-insignificant moment "there's hope for me yet". Typical of him, he said nothing save for a small chuckle.
When he died, I took that small chuckle along with various other nuances from him to mean that he considered me a failed attempt at parenting and teaching; a mistake he made, a regret he carried to his death. Of late I'm starting to see those moments as his pride that maybe, just maybe, I'd get it all figured out on my own.
I'm beyond the point of acting in the manner to make him happy, even in death, of who I am. The best I can do for myself is make myself happy, forge a path that brings me peace and allows me to respect the reflection in the mirror, the image in the photos. If the best I can do to honor my dad is to honor myself, then he'll have to settle for that.
For the first time in a very long time, I don't feel like I'm "settling" at all. I also feel that it's time to get a new photo of myself.