Here’s The Thing

by Bob Woolsey

illustration by John C Barry
illustration by John C Barry

Worlds are colliding. This month, my parents will be moving to Vancouver from their home in Vernon, British Columbia. Family Bob will meet Independent Bob.

I hold a vivid memory of a very chilly Boxing Day in 2004, when I loaded a small U-Haul truck with my belongings and made for Vancouver. I was a Northern BC kid through and through. I had the long winter jacket, as many T-shirts as there are days in a year, and only one pair of jeans. That morning, as I left my mother with a hug and a kiss, she cried.

That leap south was my flight from the nest. I had an unfinished history degree in my back pocket, I was still firmly in the closet sexually-speaking, and I had funded my entire trip on a loan. My family was concerned (rightfully so, I suppose) as we weren’t really city folk, but I felt a deep need to go and do something on my own.

I felt I needed it in order to grow up and figure out who I was away from the loving home I’d grown up in. Much like Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, only the opposite. My movie would be called Into the Concrete and instead of dying of starvation in an abandoned bus, I’d most likely die of a Starbucks overdose in the middle of crowded public art installation where no one bothers to notice that I even need help.

I don’t think I could’ve done all the things I did if Vancouver wasn’t so far away from where I’d started. I met people in Vancouver from all over the world. I spent way too much money on beer and cooked some really disgusting meals for myself.

In spite of my many childish decisions along the way, I have grown up. A big part of being able to do that was being alone. Or at least, being around people who didn’t know me prior to my arrival here. It’s been my place away from family.

For many friends of mine, the idea of having your parents move to your town would be catastrophic. Me? I’m extremely happy about this development. I’ve always been very close with my parents. They’re still together after over 30 years of marriage — they’re one of those couples who seem more in love the longer they’re together. It’s mildly disgusting but in a very heartwarming way.

Still, their addition to my Vancouver world has got me to thinking about all the things I’ve gone through here without them and how their presence will change things slightly.

Sometimes I wonder if my nine years living away from my family is one of the reasons why our relationship remains so healthy. What if it’s the people who never get to define themselves apart from their family that get stuck in this roundabout of uncomfortable dynamics with their parents?

I certainly understand the feeling of awkward relationships with your parents. They’ve known you as a helpless, drooling infant so it’s expected that their idea of you is going to have to evolve as you grow older. Not to mention the fact that their experiences growing up are going to lead to certain misunderstandings about the challenges you face as a member of this new generation that’s been (lovingly? charmingly? annoyingly?) labeled “Millennials.” Sometimes these differing circumstances and personal issues surrounding their dear little ones growing up can lead to horrible parent/child relationships.

Here’s the thing about my parents that I’m extremely appreciative of: they’ve let me grow up. Yes, I moved far away from them and pursued a passion that was deeply important to me and had many formative experiences along the way but they helped me do that. They were as supportive as they were concerned every step of the way. Financially, emotionally, oftentimes unwittingly, and always ready to be tough on me when I needed it.

I’m sure my parents held preconceptions about what I would become but they’ve been exceptionally good at letting go of those as I become my own person. They’re kind of like the parents in Into the Wild but opposite.