Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Father's Day

I was going to post this yesterday, but for some reason couldn't compose my thoughts.  Actually felt a little nervous, not sure why.   Maybe because I have family on Facebook and didn't want them to read this blog and call: "BS!  I call BS!  You don't feel that way at all, because you're a BAD SON!" 

Hmm.  I don't feel guilty or insecure at all, do I? 

I don't claim to have been the world's best son.  I'm sure that I've been neglectful, irresponsible, wrapped up in my own little world and not as attuned to my father as I should be.  I'm sure I've been - not through any direct neglect but more absent-minded - ungrateful and dismissive.  I don't mean to be.

It's just that "emotions" and "affection" have never passed well between Dad and I.   Not sure why.  Just the way it is.  At this stage in the game, there's no finger pointing or blame, not for me.  For better or for worse, that's just the way it is.

Which is not to say that Dad isn't kind and generous and giving to a fault.  He is.  In fact, when it comes to material things - things that matter, provisions, produce from his HUGE garden he really should charge for and never does - he's a consummate giver.  He always gives away things for free.  He's appreciated Abby from the start, and he loves Madi and Zack.  He's a great (as in awesome, not old) grandpa.

Nor was he ever bad to me, ever.  Never mistreated or neglected me.  He did things with me when I was a kid, and he never let his job get in the way of us, but he still always worked as hard as he could to support us.  He'd go to war over us in a heartbeat, and I don't mean in the way parents bug teachers and principals today to let their kids get away with murder and be lazy.  He fought for us.  On several occasions.

But as I grew into adolescence, then became a teen...we drifted.  Still connected over sports, most specifically basketball, and to this day, I thank God sports became an integral part of my life, not only because I really enjoyed sports and as much as I put into them, they gave back to me...but for most of high school and college, sports was the only common ground Dad and I could find.

In some ways, it looks the fodder of a humorous but heartfelt half hour television sitcom: the logical, meticulous, planning Dad who worked as an Engineer, read nothing but nonfiction, abhorred last minute planning and charted his gas mileage per week down to the penny, fathering a son who'd rather be outside playing with his make-believe lightsaber, (artfully crafted from toilet paper tubes taped together, covered with GREEN tinfoil, so I could be Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi), reading things like The Chronicles of Narnia, comic books like Spider-Man, The Secret Defenders and The Uncanny X-Men (all of Dad's old comics where World War II war comics).

Once when I was 12, Dad came into the house saying: "Come outside.  I'm tuning the car up, and this is something you should learn to do." 

My response - and probably a whiny one it was: "But DAAAD.  I'm not done reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe yet!" 

Here's another typical exchange, also around age 12, about what exactly I can't remember, I think my hopes about doing something rather mundane, and he said: "I'm sorry, Kevin. You're dreaming.  You're just too much of a dreamer, son." 

My response: "And Dad, think about where this country would be without dreamers..." 

More than ten years ago, now, after calling off my first engagement four months before the wedding, Dad was worried about me.  I drifted.  Needed time to heal.  Almost gave up on myself and life, started working 80 hours a week to pay some bills off.  Moved into a low-rent, slum apartment.  Kept to myself.   Shunned family gatherings, and hibernated, even on my birthday, which I spent alone in my cruddy little apartment, eating take-out Chinese and watching That '70's Show. 

In some ways, he didn't understand this approach at all.  For him, my emotional exhaustion and depression at that point was irrelevant.  I needed to get back up on the horse, figure out what I wanted to do with my life (this I heard from my sister over the phone one night.  To be fair, I'd shut them all out entirely at that point). However, he never intruded.  Let me heal at my own pace.  Not long after that I met Abby, and left some of my darker days behind.

Dad and I have had our misunderstandings and differences of opinion over the years, some of them mild, others not so much.  And, ever witty and sarcastic, he still holds his emotional cards close to the chest.  And there are probably times when he doesn't understand my approach at all, or completely disagrees.  But after all this time, I feel like we've come to a place of mutual understanding (I think.  We've never actually HAD this conversation, you see).  Here it is:

He is who he is.  And I am who I am.  And God meant it to be that way.  

So there it is.

Given all that, he's still directly responsible for the man I am today.   His work ethic is unparalleled, and I'd like to think that rubbed off on me.  He taught me that when you wanted something - really wanted something - and you found in yourself some talent for this thing, you worked and worked until you got it, and then when you "got it", you kept working and never stopped.

Through experience, he also taught me to survive.  The late eighties and nineties were not friendly times for an engineer with a great work record but no Masters Degree.  Once he got laid off for the first time in 1988, we endured several  stints of unemployment.   I saw Dad do everything he could to support us.  Took odd jobs.  Worked as a carpenter and electrician.  Collected cans, scrap metal, anything he could do to keep us afloat.

Also through experience, he taught me that hard work is always good.  I can't count how many times someone would offer him free stuff - REALLY GOOD free stuff, like brand new lumber if he'd be willing to tear down a building for them, or an industrial grade cement mixer just for cleaning out a barn loft.   I learned never to be afraid of hard work, even if there was no pay involved, because almost always something good came from hard work.

My Dad's an old school, politically conservative guy.  I'm a moderate.  I'm sure we're raising our kids differently than he raised me, though he's never said word one.  We've had a few differences about my career: he's always thought I should get my administration degree and be a principal for more cash, and he probably still wonders why I'm at a Catholic School making half what most public school teachers make, while I'm happy working where I am.

And who knows what he thinks of this crazy DREAM of being a writer.

But everything he taught me directly and through modeling about hard work, daily disciplines, surviving, pursuing something you want doggedly and determinedly and working hard to get that something, that pride is an INTERNAL thing: something you held onto even while walking the highways picking up bottles and cans and scrap metal, (because this is how we afford our summer vacations now and how I afford Cons)....all these things are from him.  And they've mixed together with the wild and wackiness of me that he could never understand to make the man I am today.  

I hope he's proud.  I think he is.  

But then again, he got the great mathematical ability, a way with tools and cars, and according to him, a rapier wit and the good looks.

I'm the one who got the way with words.

Thanks, Dad.  For everything.