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My Parents' Legacy

This Father's Day, my parents are especially on my mind. I think about where I am in my life and I see the good things that I have gotten from my parents: Somehow it makes me miss them less.
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My mother could not drive. She got behind the wheel one time when she was 19 years old. My parents were dating and my father, trying to impress her, decided to teach her how to drive in his brand new convertible. Minutes later, she proceeded to drive the car into a pole, damaging it beyond repair. No more convertible.

I am not sure if the convertible incident truly traumatized her or if the mythology around the convertible incident proved so frustrating that she just decided to give up on driving altogether. All I know is that my mother became legendary for her inability to drive and my whole life was formed around this identity. Because my parents separated and I spent most of my formative years with my mother, I lived a life filled with bus and train travel throughout the East Coast.

My father hated doctors. He grew up very poor in a very segregated, pre-Civil Rights era Louisville, Kentucky. Because my grandmother was a maid for a wealthy white family, she and my father resided in their fancy house in the servant's quarters. Living in their house allowed them some amenities but during that time, being black was being black. Being black meant walking miles and miles to the black school because the white school around the corner was not an option. And being black meant driving miles and miles to the one overworked black doctor because white doctors refused to see you.

In the post-Civil Rights era, my father had a choice of doctors. But something about his past interactions with doctors left a bad taste in his mouth. Between that and The Tuskegee Experiment, he was firmly anti-doctors. The damage was done.

Both of my parents have passed away so I cannot ask them all of the questions I have about why they did the things that they did. As I get older, I am always struck by the traits I have picked up from them. I, too, cannot drive and receive endless amount of flak from friends and family. I live in New York City where few people own a car so I have been able to get away with it for a long time. But now, as I begin the process of getting my learner's permit and taking introductory driving classes with 16 year olds, I feel somewhat resistant to it.

I have been anemic for a while. It is manageable but every time I get go to a doctor, I am immediately filled with doubt. Do they even know what they are talking about? Is what they are prescribing even going to work? Why am I even bothering?

This Father's Day, my parents are especially on my mind. I think about where I am in my life and I see the good things that I have gotten from my parents: my sense of humor, my generosity, my chili recipe. Yet my inability to drive and my fear of doctors makes me feel closer to my parents as well. They are traits that were specific to them. Somehow it makes me miss them less.

But I know now that these things cannot be a part of my legacy, the legacy I create for myself. My mother's ability to make anyone smile or her spontaneous gift giving; my father's incredible advice and his ability to tell a great joke; those are things I want to carry with me. Those are things I want to honor in their memory.