One major reason I could never be like my father is that I have control issues and a need for security. Maybe that is partly because my father was the way that he was. I saw how well that worked out.
I am the opposite of spontaneous. I plan everything out. I studied theatre in high school and was part of amateur acting groups for years, and it thrilled an terrified me in almost equal measure. But the thing that truly terrified me was improv. In my last year of high school I had the leading role in our graduating performance against a guy who could not remember his lines for shit. He was an awesome guy, great at physical theatre and one of my closest friends at the time, but I’d have given anything to have literally any other actor play opposite me at this time. The progression of the play heavily depended on us saying the correct lines at the correct time, and in one particular scene it would be incredibly obvious if we missed something. Being the complete theatrical opposite of my friend I was always amazing at memorising lines but so-so at everything else.
Without fail, up to and including our general rehearsal, my friend would forget at least one line in this critical scene, I would freeze up, and our drama teacher would chew me out for not managing to improvise. Amazingly, come premiere night, he remembered every single line, and continued to for every single performance. However, had he not, I’ve no doubt I’d have frozen on stage in front of hundreds of people.
If things do not go according to plan, I freeze. I recently learned that my “fear response” is to freeze as well, which was to be expected. Needless to say, this is inconvenient, so I plan most things out to a meticulous degree.
Some measure of planning can obviously be quite useful so you’re at the airport on time, don’t forget your passport and have somewhere to stay. But planning where to be at exactly what time, pre-booking all your tickets and restaurants, and even making alternate plans for varying weather conditions doesn’t leave you a lot of room for just going with the flow, being in the moment, meeting new people and being open to new experiences.
I tried to plan my father’s funeral. In fact we were rather in a panic about it, not knowing what to expect of an Irish funeral. My mum was going to play the harp. It was really important as we didn’t know what else would happen and we needed some structure. But by fate or amazing coincidence, the universe conspired against her, as harp strings kept snapping at breakneck speed, and replacing them and tuning the harp at some point became an exercise in futility. And guess what? The funeral was absolutely beautiful. My father’s friends showed up, instruments in hand, and gave him a musical tribute that will not soon be forgotten. Later, Mum and I decided it was meant to be – the harp strings were meant to break.
And, maybe more metaphorical harp strings were meant to break but in my pig-headedness I’ve refused to let them, and missed out on important life experiences, or at the very least something beautiful.
As clichéd as it sounds, I want to stop and smell the roses. I want there to be room for making different decisions and winging it. That’s when life happens. And mistakes. But mistakes are OK too, and part of this whole learning experience that life ultimately is.
So for me, part of this journey is letting go. Not of my dad, but of fear, expectation and control. After many years in and out of therapy, I’ve not made much headway with fear and control. I have become more aware of them, but they are still my guiding stars. So I hope that by (measuredly) following in my father’s footsteps I can learn something from his free spirit and sense of adventure.