My summer of self-discoveryNov 30, 2022 02:43PM ● By Adam Cochran
I love it when readers call me a kid because I am. At the time of this writing, I am three years too young to read this 50+ publication. But what readers may not know is that “old people” have been my heroes and friends my entire life.
Over the past year, I have felt driven to grasp my place as a representative of the generation between those who raised me and those who perceive aging as developing wrinkles and a receding hair line. As much as I would like to blame this epiphany on a sudden awakening of self, it is more realistically the realization that I am the sum of so many parts of family, friends and others who likely have little comprehension of how much of who I am and what I do is actually the imitation of the qualities I find so admirable in my elders.
In October 2021, my brother and I kidnapped my dad and took him to numerous air museums in Southern California for a week to see warbirds that were on his bucket list, including the world’s only original flying Zero, The Space Shuttle Endeavor and one of the last flying P-26 Peashooter.
For my brother and I, so many of our road trip conversations were about marriage and family. We talked about our wives, jobs, money and our health the way only those who have shared a common upbringing can.
But I can honestly say the best part of that trip was learning to see my dad almost like an older brother as much as a patriarch.
We joked about the restaurants we ate at, from Waffle House to the Chinese restaurant whose menu included fungus, fetuses and graphic depictions of fowl preserved in various states of torture. My dad told stories of his dad, who passed away when he was 9, and he recalled stories of relatives, businesses and adventures that I may never hear again.
By the time I got home, I felt like I understood my dad as a peer as much as I did as his son.
DISCOVERING THE PAST
In 2013, my uncle died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 56. That year, I drove my mom to the funeral in Missouri, an area she always thought of as home.
Nobody, including my aunt, really knew the influence my uncle had on the worldwide steel industry until the day before his funeral. A line began to form for the viewing and people from all over the world mourned until the sun began to set that night. I remember one mourner wailing loudly and banging his head against the floor repeatedly as he cried for the loss of his mentor, which demonstrated how my uncle’s influence had extended beyond the smelting pots and into the hearts of those he taught.
Years later, my aunt was blessed to find love and got engaged. Nothing could have stopped me from dropping everything to drive my mom back to Missouri to support her sister and see home again.
The 2013 trip made a big impression on me, but not nearly as much as this trip. My mom did something amazing for me—something that only a parent can do. She wanted me to know that a big part of who I am was directly connected to people, places and experiences from her own childhood.
I had always known that her father—my grandpa—was shaped by the Great Depression. He never wasted money or resources, he always saved everything and he had an abhorrence for debt. Although he was practical and meticulous in everything he did, he loved to travel. He had seen all of the foreign world he could stand when he was in the China Burma India theater, but he couldn’t get enough of seeing his own country with his family. Although he was a child of The Depression, he was not a victim of it. He understood the value of experiences could never be taken away.
My mom saw this road trip as a way of taking me sightseeing with her childhood self. We planned to end the trip at my aunt’s wedding, but everything before that day was flexible. My mom had a piece of scratch paper where she had written all of the tentative destinations by region.
My mom was restless, but not flustered. She cried a little as she explained the importance of each thing she wanted me to see. While she talked, I realized, as I had with my dad, that I was going to be my mom’s brother for this trip far more than I was going to be her son.
Each thing she wanted to see was something she wanted me to experience. We visited three bucket-list destinations on the first day. The itinerary wasn’t what I expected; it was better.
Not only did we make it to all three destinations, but over the coming days, we visited The Will Rogers Memorial Museum, countless family landmarks, antique malls and incredible cultural ruins along Route 66. We even looted the abandoned Sunday School where she came to know Jesus.
JOURNEY OF SELF
My mom and dad never expected me to get good grades. They expected me to make a living and support my family. Although I often claim to have been raised on sitcoms, fast food and offbeat humor, the truth is that my family raised me and my siblings to be ourselves.
On the first two days of our trip, I saw shrines and exhibits dedicated to innovators, philanthropists, writers, artists and teachers who set out to do nothing more than be themselves but ended up branding the world, or at least, their place in it. It seemed that every site she took me to and every person I learned about, related or not, was a part of me because they had been a part of her.
The day after I dropped my mom off at the house I grew up in, I walked into my home where I raised my own kids. Over the next few days, I noticed I was more restless than ever. Thoughts of both trips kept me stirred.
With my dad, I had spent days learning about my family history. He worked a lot when I was young, so our trip gave me a chance to not only get to know him but to thank him for all he did for us.
My mom took a totally different approach by pulling me into her childhood. Both trips helped me realize that our journey of self doesn’t begin with graduation or continue through each job we hold. Our accomplishments are influenced by who we are.
My own kids are in various states of independence, and my wife and I regularly have the empty-nester discussion about how much more difficult it is to raise grown kids than toddlers. Of course, this also implies that I am still being raised by my own parents.
When I was 12, I decided to start listening to my parents’ old LPs. That summer, I learned that their past actually held some treasures that hadn’t depreciated with time.
My mom used music to deal with the anxieties of moving to a new state in her early teens. I used that same music to connect with my parents at the same age. My mom would sing along to Herman’s Hermits as she took me to school or as I played the music from my room. If you have someone to sing along with, you have a best friend, a sibling and a bodyguard all in one.