Responsibility was a concept that was taught to Sean for as long as he could remember. When he came home from school as a child and wanted to play with his toys or just watch a movie, Rhoda had been there to lecture him about responsibility. Back then, it meant to finish his homework first, and take the trash outside, and keep his room clean.
So for a time, Sean thought that it meant to do what the adults told you. For a time, it was true for him, and his homework was done on time almost always, and his room was acceptably clean – his father still snuck inside every other day to wipe the dust or clean the windows, because his father hated untidiness.
But responsibility also meant not to stuff yourself full with cake when you were alone at home and your parents were at work, but eat the dinner they left for you. Even if Sean usually took the freedom to dress like a dinosaur for that. Things just were a lot more fun if you could pretend you were a T-Rex.
Sometimes it meant to talk about things that were uncomfortable. To confess your fears and work through them.
And the day Mother came from her shift at the hospital late and said that two patients had died after a car accident and they had to take care of their orphaned boy Lloyd – well, that was responsibility as well. Sean didn’t want to have a brother. He didn’t want to share his room and his things and his toys. But he knew that being responsible, in this case, meant to welcome the boy and be nice to him.
It meant to find a way to be friends with his new brother even if this friendship was imposed on him by circumstances and was not chosen freely – at least at the beginning. But Sean was his father’s son, and he wanted him to be proud. He wanted to be as strong as him, as smart as him, and yes – as responsible as him.
And after Rhoda died in an unfortunate series of events involving old age, the exertion of raking leaves, and an old injury not quite healed, it meant to take care of his younger brother when their parents weren’t home. And sometimes even if they were.
It meant to postpone his favourite pastimes on a sunday morning to go to the park with Lloyd, because they didn’t have anyone to look after them anymore when neither Tony nor Natalia had time for them.
It meant keeping quiet when it was Lloyd who was allowed into the parents’ bedroom when he had nightmares, and when it was Lloyd who got a bedtime story in the parents’ bed, to be carried to his own bed later by his adopted father. It meant not being jealous. It meant understanding. Lloyd had lost everything, and came to a new family, and had to adapt to entirely new surroundings, and Sean knew that it was something he never wanted to deal with himself. He knew it was hard for Lloyd.
And the list of responsibilities that Sean had to keep grew every day, sometimes it seemed, and sometimes he felt overwhelmed by it. But he did what he had to, and he listened to his parents, and did his homework, and cleaned up his messes, and sometimes Lloyd’s messes too, because that was what taking responsibility meant.
Sometimes, strangely enough, it also meant keeping secrets. Secrets were running deep in Sean’s family. He grew up surrounded by them. It was, for example, mostly a secret what his father was doing at work, because most people wouldn’t understand this. They would say, he was a thief, a dangerous criminal.
But Sean knew that his father did not really steal things. He simply relocated them, and most of the times he returned things back into the economic cycle. Everybody knew that rich people had lots of money. That was how you became rich in the first place. But what most people did not see, was that rich people rarely spent their money on anything. They just sat on it and accumulated even more money. But money is not an endless resource, and it has to return into the cycle, like water. If somebody found a way to possess lots of water and just hoarded it, there would be less water available for the others, and everybody would suffer. It was the same with money.
And Sean knew that it was a good thing what his father was doing, taking the money away from those who didn’t need it anyway and giving it back to the world, so it could be used by those who needed it.
He also knew that sometimes rich people needed to be persuaded to part with their unused money. Sometimes people came to their house in secret, his father’s coworkers and partners, and Sean knew that he had to keep their conversations secret.
And contrary to popular beliefs, his father’s coworkers and friends were actually nice people, even if they beat up people for a living. Some of them even helped him with his homework and made his little brother happy by ruining his pillows.
Later, when Sean was on his way to become an adult, he learned that responsibility also meant not to act on your desires sometimes, especially when you are alone with your very attractive highschool friend, even if she looks at you like she wouldn’t mind.
It also meant to throw your friends out of the house before your parents returned from their weekend trip, and clean up the messes they left.
It meant to arrange all kinds of things when your parents insisted on having a marriage ceremony after living together for over sixteen years.
It meant to stay true to your path, even if it got really hard sometimes.
It also meant that Sean had to work for his money when he got old enough for that. It meant that he had less time for his friends and his hobbies after school. In the evenings, he helped out at the cemetery.
Working at the mausoleum had its perks, though – he saw ghosts regularly and learned not to be afraid of them. It also made a really good impression on girls.
There were times when responsibility took up all he had, and he didn’t know how to manage anymore.
Times when he just wanted to forget everything and let go of that long and ever growing list of responsibilities, and just run away and start a new life somewhere, away from everything he had ever known.
There were times when he didn’t want to grow up, because it only meant adding to that list.
But, as the saying goes, time and tide wait for no man, and growing up is a thing that comes to all of us, if we want it or not.
And exploring your newfound freedom may not seem very responsible to some, but there is a time for that, as well, and there are lessons in that, lessons that you would never get elsewhere.
And finding the way you want to go is a certain kind of responsibility too. Sean had thought he had learned his lessons well. He thought that he had done a very good job on being a responsible person in his life.
Not that he was entirely wrong.
But it only after his father died, Sean knew what responsibility truly was.