The Red Door
Considering the size of the gaps that grew between our family as it evolved, it’s a small miracle we all get along these days, let alone invite each other for barbecues and spend long, cozy evenings together in the tiny spot of Southern France that my father built in his back yard. It is during those evenings especially that sometimes, we reminisce about the times past and once in a while, a truth bomb gets dropped that puts our common history in a different light.
Little Krystof was there with us that evening, having the time of his short life with a little swimming pool and a hose that wasn’t even on. We were discussing the similarities and differences between our experiences as a parent.
There are many mistakes that my father made when I was young, that I vowed not to repeat. But other aspects, like his driving style or his seemingly effortless acceptance of my decisions as I grew up, I have taken to heart and strongly hope that I can uphold them as an ideal to live by.
I felt like I should tell him that, so I did. I brought up my consideration to join the army when I was 18. Before, I had often heard my father say “I have no regrets in life, except for my time in the force.” I was expecting strong opposition when I told him that I wanted to join, part of me was prepared to obey him if he were to forbid me. But he did no such thing- He didn’t offer the least bit of resistance and as such, I enlisted.
Looking back, I see that point in time as a mirror, separating 2 opposite worlds. The failures that happened before it, and the successes that came after.
On that warm summer evening, I tried to explain to him that I hope to raise my son the same way. That despite my own inhibitions, I would allow him to make his own decisions, like my father allowed me to make mine.
And just like that, he looked me dead in the eye and said with an unusual bluntness,
“I was happy that you wanted anything at all! I didn’t care what it was, as long as it wasn’t you painting your room black.”
I blinked and behind my eyelids, I saw the flash of another bomb going off.
It is one thing that your father declares that his expectations of you were at such a low, that even the biggest mistake -at least to him- came as a relief. But that wasn’t even what phased me.
I had forgotten about wanting to paint my room, at least on a conscious level. But as it was brought up, I recalled vividly. I saw the emotions- anger, mostly. Hysterical, confused anger, and the fear for what was to come in the following years. I saw just how heavily I leaned on my girlfriend then, and how supportive she really was.
Mostly, I wanted to paint my room because I had discovered graffiti. Out of a shitty poster from an assortment I hard ordered from a catalog (by phone, those days), I had cut the faces and stenciled them onto my bedroom door. The result blew my mind.
My wallpaper was still the same from when I was 4 years old and we moved into the new house my father had built. It was nice- for a 4 year old.
But I wanted it gone. And not only did I want the little trains and animals gone, I wanted them black. A new canvas, to start over, and create something new with my own two hands.
The similarities with my general state of mind at the time are not hard to find. I wanted to start over, to erase the failings and start from scratch. All the fingers pointing at me, all the things others disapproved of… Just gone.
In that sense, me becoming Pvt 1st class De Pue (stem number 0400308) and painting my bedroom black were the same thing. They were a careful, partial suicide, an amputation so that something new could grow. With all my anarchistic beliefs, with my violent and turbulent history, becoming a medic was the most drastic thing I could think of and therefore, necessary.
With my father not allowing me to paint but giving no resistance when I joined, he probably steered my life more than any of us realize. Looking back, it was probably for the better. It is hard imagining otherwise. But maybe not. Coulda woulda shoulda.
It is ironic that now that I am 32, I appreciate my father’s present parenting more than any other time. I immensely value those moments where we can dig up the roots of things, so that we can learn from the what we did, long after the fact. Now is the time to do so, in the eye of the storm.
The past has such a wonderful way of coming full circle. Not a single event stands on its own, but interlinks with all the truths on this world. With those mighty crises and the turmoil that came with them, things happened that resonate before my eyes, in my very own son. Things that he now, like I then, does not see.
And it is simply but beautifully evident that, in an effort to understand what I see in that little part of myself running around naked, playing with water, I should turn around and look into my own past.
It has been difficult at times, let me tell you. But unexpectedly, my father has proved to be a capable guide on this journey, stumbling as he does. When I had to face the child that I once was, or when I tackled the question of my role in Krystof’s upbringing before he was born, my father had truths in his advice that revealed a harmonic logic to it all.
Now that my son exists, my life ends with him. I hadn’t expected how important it would be for me that my past would come to a conclusion, but it is. Before, they were all just things that happened, but now they happened for a reason. Not a reason that exists externally, but one that I can give it.
Long complicated story short, I want my son to be happy and that helps me to find closure with issues of my own, that were hard to deal with before. I can now give purpose to events that desperately needed some. Seeing my own development into perspective helps to continue further beyond anything I ever thought possible, into something I never expected: A father.