I never really understood this rite of parental passage until one day several years ago, when my aging and ailing father showed up at my door to check on me. Oh, I wasn't twelve, or seventeen, twenty-five or even thirty-nine. I was....never mind what I was...but that's exactly the point.
He wasn't used to seeing me live alone. I'd been married an eternity. No man around to look after things when I couldn't. No one to offer hot tea on a cold sad day. And this day, I was recuperating alone from something I shouldn't have been alone recuperating from. But Daddy knew that.
And he showed up with apples.
All hunched over the steering wheel of a too-big car for a shrinking frail man and much too late to be driving the miles between our homes. Wearing his standard apparel Braves baseball cap, he deposited the paper sack of healing fruit, two quarts of WD40, a new chain for the garage door, a bag of homegrown tomatoes and started to unceremoniously close the door on his way out with hardly a word; as quietly as he'd sat a few nights ago by the hospital bed of his newly-divorced daughter minutes before her screaming appendix came out. Just sitting there, arms crossed, hat on, silent. I was more than OK with that.
I thanked him and told him how much I appreciated the gifts but wish he hadn't tired himself like this, adding "You don't need to worry about me. You should look after yourself first."
He paused and turned. Through the half-closed door he steadied himself on my arm, winked and said,
"I'm OK if you're OK."
As my own son, who is now...oh, never mind...travels through adulthood in spurts and fits, trials and challenges, joys and grownup groans - I watch carefully. Sometimes I still see the pain of striking out on my baseball boy's face. The wheels turn with new and better strategies behind those big brown eyes as he makes his way through a maze of change. I know it is best to hold the net in silence and trust him to find his own bases. But each time I witness a gentle hurt, a screaming pain, or even the natural ebb and flow of life with all its glorious bumps and bruises, I find myself holding my breath like I did the first time he rode his bike without the training wheels, hoping he won't crash, cheering him on. And more often than not - even when my mother heart aches - the crashes come full circle into stability again and I find myself breathing
I'm OK if you're OK.
Of course, a bag of apples never hurts.