My father died a few years ago. Over the six decades that we both shared space on this earth, we certainly had our conflicts. When I went to see him in the VA home for what I knew would be the last time, I thought of how I could make peace with him. It struck me that if I truly believed the line I often say, “If every breath I have ever taken got me to where I am today, I would not change a thing” then, for the good and the bad, I owed him a debt of gratitude for being a part of who I am today.
I visited him in his room at the VA home and as I was about to leave I said “I just wanted to thank you for everything and say that I love you.” He was startled like he did not understand what I had said, so I repeated the words. We hugged and I left and drove the eight hours back to my then home in Memphis. I spoke to my father once more on the phone before he died. In that conversation we talked about nothing of great importance – how Cincinnati Reds games were nowhere near as much fun at Riverfront Stadium as the old Crosley Field, and so forth.
When he died, we were at peace. Since then I have gotten older, had a heart attack, been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and am closer to my own death. Now I think more about what I have to be grateful for in my life.
Here is an example. Today I watched the film Kon Tiki, made in 1950s. The movie documents the adventurer Thor Heyerdahl’s attempt to prove that sailors from South America could have traveled to Polynesia in prehistory. I only recollect seeing the film once before. I was about 5 years old and my father and I walked the 7 or 8 blocks from our house to the Plaza Theatre on Montgomery Road in Norwood Ohio to see the film. It is the only time I remember going to the movies with my father. When we were growing up my parents had maybe 15 books in the bookcase. One of those books was Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl.
I reflected how important that movie and book must have been for my father as they both stand out as rarities in our 1950s existence. I don’t know that I can attribute seeing Kon-Tiki at the age of 5 as a seed planted for my own ultimate career as an anthropologist and the associated travel and adventure. As I watched Kon-Tiki today a feeling of peace and serenity came over me. I was taken back to a time when I went to a Saturday 5-cent matinee, with our own snacks because money was tight, and watched a movie with my father. If I ever get back to Peru and stand on the Pacific Coast again, I will certainly think of Kon-Tiki, the Plaza Theatre, and my father.