This Father’s Day, I won’t have far to travel to visit my father: For the past several weeks, I—along with my husband and kids—have been living with him and my mother.
Even though he’s not in the best health, when my dad heard that we were moving and needed a place to stay, he immediately volunteered. “It will work,” he said when I pointed out that there wasn’t much space for so many people; “It will be OK,” was his answer whenever I pointed out how loud, how noisy, and how crowded it would be.
Unsure what to expect, we moved in. I knew my father was giving us a gift—a place to stay—but I didn’t realize how many other gifts living with him would bring. Here are six presents spending time with my dad has given me—and what I hope to be able to give to him in return.
1. Enjoying the moment
The last time I lived under the same roof as my father, we were both frantically busy: I was applying to graduate school and working two jobs to pay for it, and he was at the peak of his career, engineering a difficult corporate merger. I remember that we once snuck away for a dinner together, and congratulated ourselves at carving an hour or so to talk.
These days, my father is retired, has some health challenges, and lives at a decidedly slower pace. Spending time with him often means sitting on the couch and chatting about the weather; silences can stretch out for minutes. This discomfited me at first; I was used to more going on, to talking about goals and plans.
But in time, I’ve come to treasure the peace that comes from spending time together with no agenda. The topics we talk about now reflect what truly interests my dad, instead of merely reflecting the shifting concerns of a busy schedule. With time and patience, we seem to discuss family stories and anecdotes that we’d always felt too busy to dwell on during more fast-paced periods of our lives.
2. Honoring my father
“Honor your Father and your Mother” is one of the Ten Commandments. I’ve always tried to treat my parents well, but living with my dad has given me new opportunities to explore and try living up to this central command.
The Torah gives us some concrete ways to put honoring our parents into practice: We’re to make sure they have food and drinks; help them with their medical care and wellbeing; honor them by not usurping their seat; and try to fulfill their requests. Living with my dad has given me the gift of putting these requirements into action. Being able to make breakfast for him, bring him a drink, or drive him to a doctor’s appointment allows me to do more for him than when we live apart—and it’s brought us closer than we ever were before.
3. The Gift of Giving Back
An unexpected benefit of living with my parents is the visceral way I’ve remembered so many of the things they did for me over the years—except this time, as an adult, I’m able to appreciate them much more than when I was younger.
Now, when I’m fixing my father eggs for breakfast, I vividly recall him doing the same for me years ago. Driving him to appointments reminds me of all the errands he once did for me. Even sitting patiently, enjoying the calm, makes me recall the times he used to play games with me or discuss topics I was interested in.
4. Rediscovering Core Characteristics
“It will be alright.” My father used to say that often when he was younger and working and incredibly busy. No matter how hectic things were, he was always able to stay optimistic and in a good mood.
Now that he’s older and slowed down, he says it still—it’s become a part of who he is. Experiencing poor health and slowing down is never a fun experience. But one silver lining I’ve found is a sort of uncovering of the essential person: When so much is stripped away, what remains are the core ideas, memories, and attitudes that my dad has always cultivated.
When my dad is upbeat and reassuring—when he assures me that everything will turn out OK—I know he’s not merely coping with the latest workplace crisis. This is who he really is: an optimistic person who believes in the future.
5. Cultivating Patience
Everyone who knows me complains about my lack of patience; it’s one of my biggest challenges. Living with my father has forced me to slow down and learn to savor life at a slower pace.
Spending time with my dad, I’m learning the joys of enjoying a beautiful afternoon, of sitting peacefully and chatting slowly. Of digesting ideas over a conversation instead of racing from topic to topic.
I’ve also learned to savor smaller pleasures. Ice cream for lunch. Telling silly jokes. Sitting companionably together. Slowly, I’m learning that life doesn’t have to be fast-paced to be entertaining, and that sometimes the smallest pleasures are the sweetest.
6. Teaching my Kids What’s Important
One of the most valuable lessons my family is learning is giving the respect that every person deserves, regardless of prestige or ability or status.
In the wider world, my father might not still command the same feelings of awe on the part of strangers that he once did when he was a busy professional. But within our family, my kids are learning that he is uniquely important—simply by virtue of being their grandfather.