Watching my son grow up with glasses has helped me know my father a little bit better.
When I was in my early twenties, a good friend had his first son (of what turned out to be three). I remember him saying at the time, “There are certain things you can only learn from your kids.” Much as my single and footloose-self dismissed it at the time, there is some wisdom in that statement. I’d propose a corollary truth: There are things about your parents that you can only learn from your own kids.
I didn’t grow up with glasses. Somehow, despite numerous glasses wearers on both sides of the family, I managed to have good eyesight. It wasn’t until my mid forties that I found myself needing glasses to read, use my computer, and drive. My father, however, grew up with glasses. And my son wears glasses as well. The connection they share across the generations has been an interesting thing to witness and has given me new insight into both of them.
My Dad, the youngest of five, got glasses later than the rest of his siblings. Being nearsighted (the most common form of visual impairment for kids) he hadn’t realized that other people could see things that were far away. Around his tenth birthday his mother took him to the eye doctor, a family friend, and he was fitted with the first pair of glasses. They were heavy, uncomfortable, clunky, and totally unwearable for sports.
After a visit to the pediatrician, my son got glasses just before entering Kindergarten. It was a struggle to find frames that were comfortable, play-compatible, and didn’t cost an arm and a leg. But he adapted quickly to wearing his glasses, and they became part of his identity. He knew how expensive they were, and what a hassle it had been getting them in the first place; so losing or breaking his glasses actually created a bit of anxiety for our otherwise carefree five year old. He was very careful with them, but the newfound responsibility obviously weighed him down. He was the only glasses wearer in the house, so my wife and I weren’t able to allay his fears or offer much useful advice beyond, “Yeah.. um, don’t lose them maybe?”
Thankfully, my Dad came along. Having been a lifelong glasses wearer he was able to offer advice born of years of experience; from the quotidian (“put your glasses in the same spot on the nightstand every evening”) to the pro-tip (“don’t ever put your glasses in your back pocket”). But most importantly, he was able to set his grandson at ease, “Try to take care of your glasses, but know that glasses break, and they get lost. It’s not your fault, it just happens.”
Those simple words were transformational. My son returned to being the bubbling, joyous, and catastrophically uncoordinated kid he had been before. Yes, glasses broke. They were lost. But my son got his childhood back.
My dad and son share the experience of growing up with glasses. I had no idea how much it forms your identity. My son still draws all of his self-portraits with glasses on. Even after Lasik, my father still carries glasses with him. I’ll never know the odd feeling of missing the weight on your face, or of waking up to a fuzzy world. The lurking shared anxiety of being without them. They both hold their glasses in the same way. Their spare glasses are the first thing they both pack for a trip. They both touch their glasses on the nightstand before turning out the light, just to verify that they’re in easy reach. They both stroke their glasses before answering a question. (Note to both of you: It’s an obvious tell in Poker.)
A lot of what we’ve endeavored to create with Fitz; glasses that are more durable, with a snap-fit hinge, and easily replaceable when lost; has come from observing my son’s, and father’s, experience with glasses. My son is our longest-term beta tester. He has suffered through dozens of prototypes, but he absolutely loves the end result. My son’s glasses are so much lighter and better fitting than the clunky Buddy Holly glasses my father had to suffer as a kid. I wish I had a time machine to get Fitz frames to my ten year old Dad. I’ll have to settle for the next best thing; we’re printing a pair for him as a Father’s Day gift. The Yesiree, in Navy. Just like his grandson.
Have a Happy Father’s day.