Irepeated the words, “I failed” several times. “I’ve been acting at work like I give a damn, every day for that last quarter century.”
I smiled, realizing, that’s exactly what I was – a paid actor. I searched for a silver lining. Something that would lighten the mood. I shook my head, “My acting job pays $100,000 a year with benefits. No bad, right?”
My emotions were raw. Dare I say, fragile?
I was in Europe for the first time. There were iconic historical sites everywhere, on every city block it seemed. Yet I was crying. And couldn’t stop. I begged my daughter to follow her passions. “Go after what is in your heart. Don’t take the safe path, and…” Deep breath, more tears. “…be willing to suffer for it if you have to. Don’t do what I did. Don’t play it safe. Don’t settle.”
I quickly apologized for my un-dad-like behavior, telling her, “I’m sorry for coming all this way to just fall apart like this. This should be a celebration of your success.”
She had never seen me like that. I was a mess.
I’m not quite sure why I had that breakdown shortly after arriving at the hotel. I had managed to conceal my feelings for decades. Maybe it was the protesters that sparked a wistful feeling that lead to a bout of honest self reflection. Youth in action. I still felt that angst in my own life, bottled up for decades. I made damn sure it remained that way. Contained. After all, I chose my work path shortly after college and for the last two decades I was in parent mode. I had a family to support. Entertaining my own selfish thoughts of my dream denied was never in the cards. I reshuffled my emotions every time, placing that pesky Joker back in the deck whenever it came up. Even now, honestly, I wouldn’t trade being a father for anything.
In London, though, on a visit to spend some quality time with my daughter, I sat in judgment of myself. The choices I made. The professional life I should have pursued.
Go easy. You did the best you could. That kind of self talk, well, it wasn’t happening. The reckoning of my profound regret was 30 years in the making and ridiculously past due.
When I did finally settled down, I told my daughter how proud I was of her. For being a good friend to her friends, a talented musician and artist, and a wonderful daughter. “All I want is your happiness,” I said. “Just don’t make a career out of doing something you’re not passionate about. I failed to be your role model.”
My daughter hugged me like calming a child who was waking up from a bad dream. “You didn’t fail me, dad. You are the best father any daughter could have.”
My regret had become a signpost in her life, warning her to never settle. She listened with her heart wide open.
There is comfort in knowing the seed took root using the right amount of parenting topsoil, and small town sunshine. The instant I knew that for certain, was the day of my breakdown in London.
I will remember it as the best day of my life.