Back when we were all little shits with attitude problems, whenever our parents tried to make us do something we didn’t want to do, we made a face and brought out the “why do I have to do this? This is stupid!” card. But to no avail, whatever stupid thing your parents wanted you to do, you did. They were both the adults and your parents. You knew no other world.
Whether you were going to some special church service or driving across the country to some shack in the semi-wilderness, you were forced to take part in a tradition that was much older than you or your parents. Every year would always be the same. You’d do the same thing over and over again. And it was always more than a little unpleasant. You never truly wanted to be there. You were only there because your parents bribed and/or threatened you.
At some point, when you became your own person, you broke the cycle. “Enough is enough”, you told your parents, “I liked it fine when I was young, but this year I want to do something else”. And you went out and did that something else, oblivious to the fact that you had just broken your parents’ hearts. And it felt good in the moment. Boy did it feel good.
The years would pass and you’d keep on doing your own thing. And it kept on feeling good. But one fine day, you went about your business and felt a sudden pang of nostalgia. You started to genuinely miss that annual excursion, and yet you were still too proud to admit that to your parents. And they were hoping against hope that you would finally come to your senses, swallow your pride, and admit that they were right all along.
Alas, sweet vindication was not to come. You stubbornly clung to your independence and soldiered on, even as you missed the hell out of that annual tradition. You had a life that was more important than fulfilling a token duty to your parents. Dreams were dreamt. Plans were put in action, with varying degrees of success. And all throughout, you were growing into something much greater than just being the child of your parents.
Eventually you turned into a full-fledged adult, with a real job and a sweet 401(k) match. Most of the friends you made in college and high school eventually drifted away, starting real adult lives with other people that they deemed more important than you. You’re down to a core group of friends, a significant other, and the parents who you neglected all these years.
And then it hits you like a ton of bricks. It was never about you. It was always about us, being together, creating the bonds that would last a lifetime. That would see us through the good times and the bad. That would share in our highs and commiserate in our lows. No man is an island. No man should be an island. The vastness of the epiphany moves you to tears. Your partner asks you what’s the matter and you mumble about having something in your eye.
So you crawl back to your parents, hat in hand, and apologized for everything. And they, being your parents and all, graciously waved it aside, overjoyed to have you back as their child, eager to see your real life begin.
Sometime in the future, you got hitched and made some babies. Once they got old enough to walk and talk, you began planning an annual retreat similar to what your parents did back in the day. As you drive your family to the airport, the oldest makes a face and says, “Why do I have to do this? This is stupid!”