He held the door open as his son gripped his coffee and met the brisk autumn air. They sat down on an old wooden bench in the park, one that had seen its fair share of romance, grief, and crumbs of bread from ducks being fed. He stared at the worn, rusty bolts in the wood, and wondered about the city’s use of its finances with regards to public restoration projects. Typical of the city to go for the grand gestures rather than paying attention to the existing detail falling swiftly into disrepair. His son turned to meet his eyes, staring at his stress-creased, bleary-eyed smile.
What are you thinking about, son?
He almost snorted. His father had asked this question to start every conversation they had as long as he could remember. Couldn’t he think of anything new after thirty-five years?
Not much, Dad. Just thinking about work and the wife, all the bills that need to be paid, my co-workers being paid more than they deserve, my boss being the most incompetent slouch I’ve ever seen in a professional workplace. I’m thinking about how communication between my wife and me has crumbled to the point where sighs take up more space than words between conversations. I’m thinking about seeing myself go grey every morning in the mirror, and all the alcohol I’ve been drinking to numb the years has been adding to a slowly rounding paunch. I’m thinking about the screeching alarm I wake up to every single day, reminding me of the miserable routine that I’ve thrust myself into, hoping one day to make enough money so I can retire to a life of golf and cigars.
But of course, he didn’t say any of that. Instead, his son just sighed.
Nothing much, Dad. Life as usual.
His father’s mouth formed an “o,” but his voice failed to escape his lips. He wondered about what had happened to this son of his, who used to talk freely and laugh easily. He thought on the years of joy they shared together, and somehow, it didn’t add up in his head. Had he gone wrong somewhere in guiding his son’s life? Had he been overbearing at all the wrong times, misunderstanding what his son was telling him? It had to be his high school friends; he always knew the wrong crowd would get to him, and they ruined his relationship with his only son. It seemed like every time his son looked at him, all he could feel was disappointment, as if he’d let him down somehow.
Whatever happened to us, David? We used to be so close. Now, we hardly have six words between the two of us. Was it your friends in high school? How could a few years with the wrong people have changed you so much? You’ve become heartless, David – please, remember me and remember all the times we had together.
No, Dad. It wasn’t my friends in high school. Don’t blame other people – who you don’t even know, mind you – for something that isn’t even their fault. The problem is, Dad, that as I got older, all I could hear about was how great you thought I was going to be in college, how you thought that I would make a great attorney, and how you had my whole life mapped out for me. Things were fine as a kid, but the older I got, the less I had a say in my own life. You’ve made me care about things like politics and paying the bills and bickering with colleagues when all I wanted was to make a difference in the world. But the world got to me, and you got to me, and there isn’t a thing any of us can do about it now. So just leave it there and accept what’s happened. I’m not the kid you used to know because you’ve just made me yourself. There’s no life more miserably wretched than the life lived out disingenuously, and you’ve made this life I live wretched with how you talked on and on about the petty problems you had at work, or the innumerable mishaps that didn’t really mean anything in the long run, but you focused on because you liked to hear yourself talk. You never cared about my dreams and aspirations, and you sucked my own life right out of me, slowly filling me with grey nonsense that only you care about. You stole the unexpressed genius of my youth and replaced it with a jaded set of eyeglasses from which I now look at the world. I suppose you think I should thank you now because you’ve helped me see the world as it is, but no, I won’t thank you. It’s not something to be proud of when you lose faith in your own perspective; it’s tragic, and now that I’m mired in this replica of your own story, I’m never getting out. Hopefully I won’t have a child because that way, I won’t run the risk of ruining his life as well. That’s some good parenting, Dad, you did swell. I’m making money and I have a house and I pay all my bills, but you know what? I’m dying day by day. My dreams have deserted me, and now I’m grasping in the darkness, my only hope is found in the current lack of it, that maybe some day, this lifelong nightmare will be over, and my eyes will be washed clean from the blindness I’ve been living in. But until that day, I have you to thank for the life I’m living, or having, rather; it would be a travesty to call what I’m currently doing living.
He got up and walked away after pouring the last of his heart out to his father. He left his cup on that wooden bench. His father stared at the emptiness occupying his son’s spot, hands trembling. Quietly, he lowered his head to his knees and clasped the back of his neck with his hands. He really had let his son down, and he just let him down for the last time.