If you’d told me 10 years ago that my parents would become my best friends, I would’ve laughed, and then cried at such a depressing thought. A college freshman back then, I wanted nothing more than to be my own person and get far away from them. We don’t think the same or live life the same way, and that was always a great source of conflict.
I’m not quite sure when that changed, but I am forever grateful that it did.
Over the past decade, I’ve watched my mother graciously suffer through a stem-cell transplant and chemotherapy for multiple myeloma before going into remission, only to need a hip replacement the following year. To celebrate God’s healing of her body, I convinced my parents to join me in Paris to celebrate their 30th anniversary. That amazing trip started the fun tradition of me third-wheeling their anniversary trips. Two years back on their 31st, they joined me here in Manhattan, and I led them on the ultimate tour of New York City.
But in the middle of our as-romantic-as-possible-with-your-child-present pedicab ride through Central Park, my mother began experiencing tightness in her chest and down her left arm, which didn’t go away the whole trip. While we all still had a great time, my mother knew something wasn’t quite right.
As soon as they returned home, my mother went to the doctor and discovered she’d need open-heart surgery to fix a valve. She literally had a broken heart. Of all the things I’d already seen her suffer through, this was the worst. Though she rarely cried from physical pain before this, she constantly cried afterward. It was horrifying to witness, and unimaginable to feel. Through it all was my stalwart father, who was as kind, loving and giving while taking care of her than I’d ever seen him before. Witnessing his care of her was the most love in action I think I’ve ever seen. Under extremely unfortunate circumstances, it was a gift to experience.
By the time their 32nd anniversary rolled around last year, my mother was all healed from her surgery and back to herself, and the three of us were off to Las Vegas to celebrate. My father usually foots the bill for everything, but this year I was in the rare position of providing more than my beautiful, fun self.
To thank them both for all that they’ve done for me and to treat them for all they’d survived together during these past 32 years, I planned our entire Vegas itinerary. As soon as we landed, I arranged for them to enjoy a romantic couple’s massage, courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. (My father—who usually says “It was all right” when reviewing anything—said of the experience: “It was pretty good.” So, whoa!)
I rejoined them for an incredible tour of the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon at sunset, where we landed and had a champagne picnic right there at a camp inside the Canyon courtesy of Sundance Helicopters. It was the clear highlight of the trip, a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” raved my mother. And my father, a pilot who flies all over the world, had the highest compliment of all: speechlessness.
Throughout the week, we bonded over the mediocrity of Gordon Ramsay Steak restaurant and had our minds blown watching the inconceivable acrobatics of the Cirque du Soleil show Mystėre and sang our hearts out at the blackest show in Vegas, the Motown review show, Hitzville. It was truly an amazing trip that I can’t wait to outdo with them this year.
We still don’t think the same or live life the same way, and that’s still a source of conflict for us. But what has changed is my fear of conflict. I know my parents love me and I love them, irrespective of our many differences. And even at their worst, I’ve decided they are the most important people to me in the world.
With that decision, I learned there were some things I simply had to accept about who my parents are and what it means to be a parent. The inevitable impact of imperfect human beings crashing into other imperfect human beings—whether for purposes of destruction or creation—is chaos. It’s the pain and pleasure of being fully human, the unavoidable damage we do to others, especially those we love, we create, or who’ve created us.
But when we get liberated from the need for our loved ones to perform for us in the ways we need them to perform and be for us who we want them to be, we cannot only forgive anyone anything, but also find true connection with them. That is what becoming an adult has allowed me to see.
The good in my parents does not erase any bad, and the bad does not outweigh the good. When I can see them and experience them at their best, at their worst, and everything in between—and allow those many different sides of them to co-exist in the makeup of two complex human beings—I give myself the right to be a complex human being.
I’m friends with my parents because I’ve chosen to enjoy them fully, to accept them fully and to let them be my friends. Fortunately, they do the same for me. So many children don’t get to grow up and change their minds about how they want to view their parents. Many people have to wait until they have children of their own to see how impossible it is not to screw up your kids, some way or another.
But I’m so grateful I chose forgiveness, acceptance and total love when I did, or I would’ve missed out on the best friends a grown kid could ever have.
Brooke Obie is a writer and editor in New York. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.