My father sent me his compass this week. It’s military issue, camouflage green, weighs in at half a pound, and is nigh onto indestructible. It’s the one he carried with him for fifty eight years, the one he used through wars and special missions to guide him across mountains, jungles, and deserts around the world. It’s also the one, as he put it, that probably saved my life more times than I can remember and always got me home.
My father sent me his compass because he believes that I’m lost.
He and I don’t communicate all that well, which is not a big surprise. He’s a man’s man, from the greatest generation, and prefers his communication simple, short, and aimed at a swift resolution. He’s uncomfortable and impatient with the delicate dance required in talking about feelings and tries to either ignore a conversation that introduces them or, if that doesn’t work, shut it down altogether. This can make it difficult for the women who are intimately involved in his life.
Because women have to talk about feelings. It’s in our DNA. Relationships are our genetic job and the drive to talk about them is as relentless as the instinct to protect our young. It’s a diagnostic tool to help us determine if everything is running smoothly. Preventing a woman from talking about the relationship is as counter productive as stopping a man from checking the oil in the car. All that happens is the engine of each eventually blows and we all know how hard it is to get them up and running again after that.
Which is what happened with my father and I. I needed to talk about something important but he silenced me instead, and even though we lasted a few years longer, the pressure built until it finally blew after which I stopped talking to him altogether. And for the life of him he can’t understand why.
Yet he’s still reaching out to me with his compass. He’s sending me a message in the language he knows, and while I stiffen at the inference that I’m lost, I’m also moved and shaken by his longing for me to come home. Because I want to go home. I love and miss him. But I still don’t know how to survive closeness with a person who demands my silence.
I think all of us have an internal compass we steer by, a deep sense of knowing about what we need, what we believe in, and who we are. This knowing is what fuels our passion and shapes our dreams and we can always tell when it’s not functioning properly because without it, we feel lost. The directions on this internal compass are unique to each person, and I think that mine are different from my father’s in significant ways. He steers by things like loyalty, courage, secrecy, and discipline while I find my way through curiosity, exploration, expression, and truth. These are not qualities we’ve voluntarily chosen for ourselves, things to try on and discard at will. They’re what we are, the cardinal elements out of which we were created, and he can no more stop being what he is than I can.
And yet, and yet. He keeps calling and calling me home, and I keep searching for some way…some way…to reconcile the differences so I can survive a return. Because, in spite of the hurdles and confusion and pain, we still share the same magnetic north; we love one another deeply and can’t seem to forget it.
copyright 2010 Dia Osborn