I’ll never forget the look on his face as he tumbled to the ground.
I don’t remember what it was we were arguing about, why I was so angry, or what had caused me to lash out.
All I remember was his face.
Maybe a few moments after, the storm that ensued, the pain that could only be expressed in fear and anger.
But those are more like flashing images, a blur lost in the haze of memories unremembered.
But that face cuts through it all.
It was the first time I had seen my father like that, maybe the first and only time he allowed himself to be seen that way by me.
It was a look of utter confusion, of an orderly world turned upside down, and, most frightening for me, a flash of unrestrained fear.
He fell to the ground because I had pushed him. I had been spiraling more and more out of control at this time, a year before I would find out I was bipolar, before I would have a manic episode that would take over my life and change it forever, a year before I would look back on the past few years, even the past decade, of my life, and see evidence of losing more and more control of myself.
I had never pushed my father before, and never would again. But in that moment, I was so angry, I was so out of control, that I let myself do the unthinkable.
I had lost my temper with them before. In fact, it was clear that I was starting to develop a very serious anger management problem. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize how deep this problem was, how much further it spread than anger. The main thing we noticed, that they saw, that I was able to face, was the outbursts. What I didn’t tell them about was the year I had spent before then in the house I rented with some friends in college, hiding in my room with the lights off for days, weeks at a time in utter depression. The way I had allowed trash to build up all around me without bothering to clean it. The way I had gone from someone who didn’t touch drugs to smoking pot like a fiend, trying shrooms multiple times, and pills if they were handed to me.
We didn’t talk about all that because they were my parents, and while we were having a very difficult time interacting, our relationship deteriorating, they were still, at that point, the people I saw as larger than life, who were indestructible, and who would live forever and always be there for me no matter how self-destructive I became.
And that is why the moment my father fell, and his face transformed into something I had only seen on mere humans before, my reality suddenly shattered into a million pieces.
There was, of course, the almost unimaginable pain of having hurt and scared my father. The guilt of having physically attacked the person who had done so much for me, who quietly stood by me even as I fell apart in front of him.
But, it was more, deeper, than all that. It was the fact that, for the first time in my life, I could see my father was human. As delicate as me, as prone to fear and confusion. As susceptible to pain.
In fact, I think there was something about seeing my parents as indestructible that allowed my mind to go to the place where it would be “okay” to lash out at them. They couldn’t be hurt by what I did! And they were so powerful, and had so much control over my life, that I needed to lash out at them because they must be the source of my pain, my frustration, my utter and complete depression.
Why is it easier to rebel against God than against your friends? Because God is all-powerful and unhurt by our puny actions, in our minds. He is beyond our comprehension.
That’s how I saw my parents. That’s how, I imagine, we all see our parents until they fall to earth at some point.
I was in college, but I was still in high school in my heart, still holding onto the idea that there were bigger forces in control of my life than me, still hiding from myself, from my own actions. And their consequences.
And that is why my father’s fall so shook me. So struck deep into my reality, and so forced me to start facing myself slowly.
Because I was suddenly alone when I saw his face. Suddenly realizing one of my biggest fears in life: that no one would save me from the confusion and pain that life kept throwing at me.
I was alone, completely and utterly. In that moment, as his face transformed, our relationship transformed. I was sent almost immediately on a plane back to Arizona, my parents afraid of what I was capable of, convinced that they couldn’t be around me until I figured out whatever was going on inside of me.
It took a while for it all to truly hit me. It took another year of spiraling, of losing control, and of finally breaking and ending up in a mental institution, before I started to (or perhaps was able to, with the help of medication and therapy) look within instead of outside for answers to my questions.
Even that was only the beginning, with multiple falls back into pot, into losing myself in other addictions like gambling.
But as I grew and began facing my demons, my father’s face became more and more etched and alive in my mind. I didn’t understand the feeling of utter panic I had felt in that moment until much later.
Now, thank God, my relationship with my parents has come to a much more beautiful, balanced place. We’ve grown together from this experience, and learned so much along the way. In many ways, we see that final breaking point the next year as a positive moment, the moment I had to finally face myself and what was happening to me.
But I think, perhaps, that the process had started earlier. When my father fell. And suddenly life could not easily be explained as larger forces controlling my life. When, for one moment, I realized that they are human, which made them simultaneously less powerful and me much moreso.
Perhaps we all have such moments, if in less dramatic fashion. Perhaps we all need such moments. Moments to push us to finally grow, to finally take our lives into our own hands, to teach us how much agency we’ve been gifted.
I’ll always regret that moment, that the lesson was learned in that way, that I acted in a way no son should ever act.
But the moment transformed me, and I am thankful for that at least. Thankful that my parents kept me in their lives, despite everything. Thankful that we could grow from the ashes of what I had done to them in my pain, confusion, and misery.
And thankful, finally, that I finally realized that seeing my parents’ humanity allowed me to finally access and take responsibility for my own.