Were you a boat, you’d leave a wake.
Were you a fire, you’d leave smoke and ash.
You’re human, of course, so you’ll leave stories and memories. Hopefully they’ll be good, perhaps even great. You’ll also likely leave full and broken hearts because you loved well and were well loved.
One way or another, you’ll leave something, simply because you were here…
My siblings and I are coming up on the one-year anniversary of my father’s death – drawing to a close the loop ‘round the sun that has been the Al Mossman edition of our “year of firsts.”
The journey continues to have its ups, downs, and more than a few sideways rolls. There’s been no lack of color in the experience. Some brilliant hues, others muted moments of brushstrokes on a broad canvas, always there, as if waiting to be discovered.
To the child in me, my father was a hero. To my inner adolescent, he was equal parts playmate, authority figure, and pain in the ass. To my young adult, he was a beloved, confounding mix of mentor, judgmental naysayer, leader, comic, and sensei who never quite got the memo on teaching. As an adult, I see that he was all these things and every inch a magical, flawed, big-hearted, generous human being who loved his family, dessert, great food, adventures, and flower gardens… very possibly in that exact order.
I’ve been using the words “legacy” and “ancestry” a lot more this past year than ever before. I imagine that has to do with finding myself in my own third chapter of life as much as it does with the loss of my dad.
Then, too, there’s a newfound clarity of purpose and mission that’s settled in and around me with a welcoming warmth.
I don’t want to overanalyze it, though I will say that after honing my craft as a dyed-in-the-wool, angsty, long-suffering (and at times insufferable) creative, I’m quite enjoying the absence of self-induced internal drama!
But back to the topic at hand.
Of the many things I learned from both my parents, there’s something sticky about this ancestry thing. I can’t trace it to specific parts of our family culture, though I think a clear through-line can be drawn to our collective history, to stories shared at the dinner table.
We had ancestors.
I see ancestry as a pillar of responsible, conscious adulthood. As I share with the men in my IAM program, the fact that we live, that we are here – whether or not we have children of our own – we are ancestors to future generations.
My thinking – my deep feeling – is that when we position ourselves as ancestors, when we imagine our choices creating foundations future generations will build upon, those choices are more likely to be generative and life-affirming.
Inviting men (anyone, really) to look through an ancestry lens isn’t intended to place a burden on their shoulders. It’s meant to free them to make intentional marks, to have the stories of their lives be good ones. Not for the purpose of feeding egos or building gilded monuments to bloated self-importance. We’ve had enough of that, thank you very much.
The world I imagine – the one that’ll be here when I’m long forgotten – is a place that still carries the echoes of my stewardship, my creativity, expressions of my love.
As I ride this glide-path, still slightly above the clouds, on the approach to the final week of our first year as orphaned adults, I have a clearer view of my father’s legacies. I see the broader reach of his generosity, his curiosity, his love of making music… all the good he did and was.
I have a palpable sense of his unfolding role as ancestor. I see rays shining well beyond the bounds of our family, and I imagine them spanning decades to come in ways hard to articulate.
I see, for instance, that while he couldn’t quite get a handle on why I preferred playing rock & roll rather than his suggestion(s) to take up classical guitar, he knew my loud expression of choice was among the things that fed my soul. That’s all he needed to jump on board.
Each of my siblings likely have their own similar stories, some of which are sure to be shared when we get together to unveil his headstone in a few weeks.
What I’m appreciating most in this moment is that, as much as I can trace the lines of my father’s ancestral gifts – as clearly as I can see them running through each member of my family – I also observe that, through our love and creativity, we refract the rays of light mentioned above. In so doing, we’re making them our own, creating our legacies…
Each becoming ancestors in our own right.