As a parent, you get the opportunity to know your child from the beginning and if you’re lucky, you get to grow with them through every stage of their life. Your knowledge of the person they are grows as they do. And so you’re there…watching the pieces of their puzzle coming together from the start.
But from a child’s perspective it takes a lifetime to know your parent. You start out your life with someone who has had so many experiences, fought so many battles, developed their personality and maybe has a little baggage with them as well. I know it’s taken all my life this far to know my dad—to put the pieces of his puzzle together to create the picture of the person I will always know as my father.
The pieces were larger and easier to see when I was little. A scratchy cheek to kiss goodnight, the hands that held the back of my bike as I learned to ride a 2-wheeler, and a pair of legs I could hide behind during a parade so I didn’t have to get too close to the clowns were all the pieces I needed in my puzzle back then.
The pieces took a different shape and the puzzle got a little more interesting as I grew. He was a patient man who taught me how to drive a car. His incredible knowledge and love of history made him my only reference on my 5th grade American history paper. And maybe the hardest piece to find and lock into place was watching him struggle with his own weaknesses, overcome them, and work to become a better husband and father.
Puzzles get more challenging as we get older. The pieces get smaller, there are more of them, and it’s really hard to see where they go. On one hand, it’s exciting to anticipate the picture coming to completion, but what I like to do is look at each piece individually. Every one of them is a little abstract piece of art all by itself. So, even though the pieces are smaller, they are actually greater in value because in the end they add the subtleties and color that make the overall picture more beautiful.
I saw Dad take pride in his children as we all grew and used so many skills we learned from him to become strong, independent people. I saw his face light up holding his first and only grandson. I saw him playing trains and silly childhood games with my son and I realized that any holes in your “Dad” puzzle can easily filled with the “Grandpa” pieces. I saw his patriotism in action, especially the day he insisted on voting before going to the emergency room with chest pains.
I have a pretty good picture of my dad today, but I’d be lying if I said I had all the pieces to my dad’s puzzle. For one thing I’m sure I’ll never know everything about him and for another I’m beginning to see that life is an infinite puzzle. We’re all connected to it and there’s always another piece to be added. I believe Dad’s puzzle will never be complete because it will continue to grow as we—his family and friends—keep finding and adding pieces.
I had to leave my favorite piece in place for the last time on Saturday night. It was similar to the one I knew as a little girl, but now is smaller and more complicated in its content. It’s that scratchy cheek that I kissed goodnight as our roles reversed and I left him tucked into bed. That’s the one I will miss the most.
If you hold a piece of my dad’s puzzle, you are a very fortunate person.