Role Reversal

This story written by Will Jones

Both my younger brother, Kevin, and I left home when we were still in our teens.  He settled in New York and I eventually settled in California after a few years in Colorado.  Our parents lived first in Philadelphia and then in Norristown, just outside the city.  We visited home as frequently as we could, but from the late sixties and early seventies until both of our parents died, father first in 1999 and mother second in 2009, we were never more than temporary guests.  My parents visited me in both of the western states where I lived, but for forty years they mostly stood and waved as I pulled away from the curb in front of their house.  When I was younger I’m sure their thoughts included concerns about my well-being and my future, and when I was older happiness about my career and family life.  Either way I know they were sad to see me, and later my family, go.

Yesterday I stood in front of my house as I watched two of my sons leave for a surf trip.  They were headed up Highway 1 through Big Sur and then on to Santa Cruz.  My oldest son lives in Boston with his wife and their two-month-old daughter, our first grandchild.  We’ll be visiting them in May.  At sixty-three, I’m now the waving parent alternating thoughts about safety, future and happiness as I watch my children grow farther and farther into their adult lives.  Such bittersweet feelings.  Each is his own man, each with unique looks and talents, each fully engaged with life from his own perspective and personality.  I’m of two minds when I think about them, both now and as I visualize and dream about their futures: part of me wants them to enjoy their youth but also be planning for a more or less “conventional” life that will make their middle and later years  secure and free from financial fear.  The other part of me wants them to live free of convention and create thoughtful lives based on their passions and individuality without succumbing to all of the pressures applied by the oppressive economy of modern life.  Somehow, I guess, I want them to have it both ways.

My boys are 31, 28 and 22.  Each has started down the road to his future, but they have a long way to go.  My path didn’t become clear until I was in my middle thirties and later on I had to make some big personal changes to hang on to a good life that was slipping away from me.  Today my life is better than I ever could have imagined, and that includes great relationships with my sons.  I admire their strength, their courage and their fierce individuality, but I also have those concerns about safety and security that my parents had decades ago as they watched me pull away from the curb without knowing when they might see me again.  Our farewell yesterday went like this: my sons waved and called out “Peace!” I replied, “Love and truth!” as they swung a left and soon vanished from my sight, following the grail road to the future.


Read more of Will’s writings at

photo by Paro_for_Peace


6 Responses to Role Reversal

  1. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    Your story is so touching, it opened my heart – I cried when I first read it.
    My oldest just announced that he and his wonderful girlfriend are getting married – I cried again.
    I then sent a text to his dad: “We have just entered a new chapter in our lives.” – I cried yet again.
    Thank you! – ms

  2. Will, as I read your beautiful story I was reminded of my own experience of leaving my small hometown in New Jersey and moving “out west” when I was just twenty-two. It must have been so hard for my parents, with all the fears of the unknown, to let their adventurous daughter go. My father wasn’t the type to express his feelings openly, so it’s very touching to see that men have overcome that old-time toughness of past generations. – Joy

    • For a long time the closest I came to getting a hug from my dad was a shoulder to the chest. Once we all survived the 60’s and 70’s there was more open affection, but he remained a tough guy to the end. He struggled with the ‘L’ word. Just wasn’t part of the male vocabulary among blue collar WW II veterans like him. At least not from my experience.

  3. Will, that is a beautifully written piece…poignant…moving. My parents, too, had three sons…and we left that hardscrabble little prairie town…off to meet our worldly adventures. Your writing made me wonder how they must have felt about that….they certainly didn’t share it with us. Thanks for the reflection. I liked your poem in the paper, too!

    • Thanks, Ray. My oldest son ran the Boston Marathon this morning in just under 3 hours, quite an accomplishment considering the unexpected heat. I tell them all that I plan to live to 100 just so I can watch their lives unfold, the good, the bad and the somewhere in between. Such riches!

  4. When my children were born it opened a place in my heart I didn’t know existed. There is no other love as powerful. Being able to openly let my sons know how I feel about them is one of life’s greatest gifts. For another version of what I expressed in “Role Reversal,” you might try reading my poem “Brothers” on my blog:
    Thanks to BOBB for publishing my story.