I admit it. There are a few things in life I would do over if I could. I am sure I am not alone in this. Some of these do-overs rise to the level of regret (e.g., breakups, poor choices, words that can’t be taken back like toothpaste into the tube). Others not so much (e.g., buying the first car I took for a test drive). Then there are those that fall in between.
One of those in-between do-overs occurred during the summer of my seventeenth year. I was about to start college in the fall and my father planned a family vacation. He wanted all of us to go. He must have known it would be the last trip we would take as a family. I remember my mother talking to me about it. I could tell she wanted me to go for my father’s sake and that it was important to him. I got the message. I ended up going but not without subtle and not so subtle brooding.
We went to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg. We drove there from Staten Island. Although I can’t be sure, it must have been for three or four days. I don’t remember much beyond the roller coaster, which rose humpbacked like a prehistoric skeleton against the sky. The rest of the park seemed made for little kids and their families. I had the impression that this vacation was for my two younger brothers and sister. I served to round out the team as if we were an infield. I remember my mother being pleased that I went along although she never said so.
In the years since that trip I have felt guilty about two things: (1) that I resisted the time spent with my family, and (2) that I didn’t let myself be present, realizing that this would be our last vacation together. Now, you may say that I am being too hard on myself and can’t expect that kind of self-awareness from a seventeen-year-old. That may be true, and I understand that at that age my brain hadn’t even developed fully. But that doesn’t change the reality of what happened. I am sure I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around. If my father had thrown me from the top of the roller coaster, I wouldn’t have blamed him.
I would be a different kind of son today.
I used to think of the trip to Hershey Park as a regret, a big one. Even so, I never spoke to my father about it, never sat down with him, swallowed hard, and asked for forgiveness for being what the less gracious of you would call a dick. Others might simply say I was a brat (see the upcoming post, “Confessions of a Brat”).
As soon as we got back to Staten Island I took off for college and never looked back. One time when I had an opportunity to bring it up with him–we spent two days putting up drywall in our summer house in Surf City–I told him I couldn’t spend the evening with him, because friends had invited me to a party. I went to the party, came back at 2:00 in the morning with my head spinning, and threw up all of the eggplant parmigiana he had made for dinner only hours before.
Still, I am moving the Hersey trip from regret to an in-between do-over because I realize it would have been much worse–nearly as unbearable as I was insufferable–had I not gone to Hershey Park. As it turns out, I did go. I went, I saw, I acted out. I may not have been the most mature teenager in the park, but at least I was in the park, riding the coaster and imagining the days of glory and conquest that I was certain lay ahead.
It’s too late, of course, but I would be a different kind of son today. In fact, I am finally ready to be one, the kind that might make a father proud. Knowing that makes me a different kind of father, and that’s the best I can do.
Image credits: Hershey Park roller coaster by Meg Boulden. Like fiction? Check out the “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” This post is dedicated to my father.
To quote the great Joyce Henry, “You have to do these things when you’re young and stupid.” Most of the regrets I have that fit into your silos are from that transformative age, about 12 to 25, when we do things without thinking how they might affect others. It took me a while, but I did forgive myself for a handful of Do-Overs. Wouldn’t mind having that opportunity, but only if I would end up EXACTLY where I am today. That’s the trade-off. Do I pick a different career (Flipped a coin at 26 to decide on Film Production versus Journalism)? Do I not take the six month job in San Francisco which turned into 30 years? Do I pursue a different relationship that leads to marriage? That last one is fraught with all kinds of possibilities, none as good as the one I have had for 38 years. Reflection is torture, but kudos for you for your sensitivity and ability to revisit an imperfect situation by an imperfect person, otherwise known as a young person.