I went to Dunkin Doughnuts to buy breakfast.
To begin with, that’s lot more impressive than it may sound. If you don’t live in Southern California, you probably don’t know that there’s only one Dunkin Doughnuts store within miles and that it just opened up this week. And if you don’t live in Southern California, you definitely don’t know that the lines at our new Dunkin Doughnuts are so long, day and night, that up until this morning I was pretty sure that the surviving Beatles were doing reunion concerts there. (Come to think of it, would there be lines to see Paul and Ringo? Or would they have to give away doughnuts to boost ticket sales?)
But I’m an early riser, so before 6am, I ducked out, thinking the lines wouldn’t be that long, that early. I was wrong, of course. The line was long. I stayed anyway.
And that might have been the single most important thing I’ll ever do for my daughter. And then again, it may not be.
My daughter and I love the coffee at Dunkin Doughnuts. Love it. So, of course, we were both pretty excited when the new store opened. Not as excited as the people lined up around the block all day and some of the night, but still, pretty excited. Grace is a Junior in High School and the work is already piling up. So an iced Dunkin Doughnuts coffee and a bagel was definitely a nice way to start the morning.
But was it the single most important thing I’ll ever do as her father? Well, yeah, maybe.
The older I get the more I realize how strange a thing memory is. My grandfather lived to be 89. I was well out of childhood when he passed away For a time he lived with us. You know what I remember about him? Five maybe six things, tops.
When I was young, he and I used to get up early and go have breakfast. After we ate, he’d stop to buy a Yiddish paper and I would linger near the baseball cards. As if it had never happened before, he’d say, ‘you want one?’ I’d nod and he’d buy me a pack of cards.
I remember the way he smelled in the mornings and I remember that he told my sister he couldn’t vote for her if she ran for President because women should stay at home. I remember he wanted me to become a doctor so that he could get free medical exams. Mostly though, I remember standing by those baseball cards.
Once, long after my grandfather had died, I wondered to my mother what he and I could possibly have talked about during all those breakfasts. She laughed and said that he was probably telling and retelling me his life story, so that he’d never be forgotten. But of course, I remember none of that; just the cards.
My own father is still alive. I certainly remember a great many things about how I was raised. But what I always think of when I think about my dad is the way he crossed the street when we went into New York City. My father is one of the great jaywalkers of our time. I remember crossing the street with him in New York and being awestruck by his confidence and dazzled by the way he knew just when to march into traffic. That’s the single most consistent image I have of my father. Jaywalking.
My grandfather lived a full and complicated life. He barely escaped Europe, started a new life in a strange new country, raised a family, had a few wives and yet somehow I managed to distill all of that, that whole existence, into the way he’d pretend to just casually notice that I might want a pack of baseball cards.
I talk to my father a few times a week. We see each other as often as we can. And yet for me, he will always be the man who dazzled me when I was young with his incredible knowledge of New York traffic. The guy who had a secret life, dodging cabs far away from the suburbs. That guy.
Who will I have been for my kids? It’s impossible to say. I know who I want to be for them. I know what I want to teach them and I know the things I hope they’ll think about, when they think about me. But I don’t actually know which moment they’ll take with them as they go out into the world. None of us do.
When my kids were little Mary and I used to joke that instead of paying to take them on nice vacations we could just Photoshop pictures of landmarks into our family snapshots and then tell them that they’d been to the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum and the Space Shuttle as it orbited the Earth. I mean, they’d never remember any of the stuff we actually did anyway, so why not save a few bucks? Certainly I can’t be the only parent who worries that the one memory my kids will hold onto from childhood will be of the time I said whatever stupid thing I may have already said that may have already caused them to need therapy when they’re older.
My daughter has a test today and she’s getting ready for the ACT’s and right now she’s about as far away from Summer vacation starting up again as she can be, so I went and bought her the best iced coffee on the planet. We sat together and watched an episode of Dr. Who and ate our breakfast and then I sent her off to school. Will that be the thing she remembers most about our life together when she was a teenager? I don’t know. But the older my kids get, the more I become convinced that the best I can do for them isn’t trying to change them, or even doing whatever I think needs to be done to squeeze every last ounce of potential from their bodies and souls. The best I can do for them is give them moments that are worth holding onto because those moments are the single most important things I’ll ever do. And then again, maybe they’re not.