Three times a week after school I go visit my dad. When I enter the hospital room where he has lain in a coma since his accident, my eyes often wander to the lone golf ball my mom placed at his bedside. Just six months ago, my father was driving a golf cart across the street that bisects the local golf course when he was hit by a car. He suffered a severe brain injury, and the doctors have ruled out any possibility of him waking up again.
When I look at him lying in bed, frail but peaceful as if he were asleep, it’s hard not to dwell on the “what ifs”: what if he hadn’t played golf that day? What if he hadn’t been behind the fence when the black Camry plowed into it? What if I still had the chance to ask all those questions that choke me up when I see him in the hospital? I can’t pretend that I have developed enough distance from the event to draw conclusions about life, but I am already beginning to see myself in very different terms.
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Ironically, through this accident, my dad has given a chance to face reality head-on. Before the accident, my relationship with him was warm but fraught with tension. He never seemed satisfied with what I did and reprimanded me for every wrong step I took. He had strong opinions about my hairstyle, clothes, friends, and–above everything else–my academic performance. When I was not sitting at my desk in my room, he invariably asked me why I had nothing to do and told me I should not procrastinate. He stressed that if I missed my teenage years of studying, I would regret it later. He didn’t like me going out with my friends, so I often ended up staying at home–I was never allowed to sleep over at other students’ homes. All I remember from my past high school years is going to school and coming back home. I was confused by my parents’ overprotective attitude, because they emphasized independence yet never actually gave me a chance to be independent.
In terms of career, my dad often lectured me about which ones are acceptable and which are not. He worried incessantly about whether I would ever get into college, and he often made me feel as if he would never accept my choices. Rather than standing up for myself, I simply assumed that if I studied hard, he would no longer be disappointed in me. Although I tried hard, I never seemed to get it quite right; he always found fault with something. As if that weren’t enough, he frequently compared me to my over-achieving older brother, asking me why I couldn’t be more like him. I must admit that at times I even questioned whether my dad really loved me. After all, he never expressed admiration for what I did, and my attempts to impress him were always in vain.
In retrospect, I don’t think I fully understood what he was trying to tell me. These days, when I come home to an empty house, it strikes me just how dependent on my parents’ care and support I have been so far. Now that my dad is in the hospital and my mom is always working, I see that I must develop the strength to stand alone one day. And, for the very first time, I now realize that this is exactly what my dad was trying to make me see.
I understand that he had a big heart, even though he didn’t always let it show; he was trying to steer me in the right direction, emphasizing the need to develop independence and personal strength. He was trying to help me see the world with my own eyes, to make my own judgments and decide for myself what I would eventually become. When my dad was still with us, I took all of his advice the wrong way. I should not have worried so much about living up to my parents’ expectations; their only expectation of me, after all, is that I be myself.
In mapping out my path to achieving my independence, I know that education will allow me to build on the foundations with which my parents have provided me. My academic interests are still quite broad, but whereas I was once frustrated by my lack of direction, I am now excited at the prospect of exploring several fields before focusing on a particular area. Strangely, dealing with my father’s accident has made me believe that I can tackle just about any challenge. Most importantly, I am more enthusiastic about my education than ever before. In embarking on my college career, I will be carrying with me my father’s last gift and greatest legacy: a new desire to live in the present and the confidence to handle whatever the future might bring.
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