This is the 28th Father’s Day without my Dad. Everyone says I look like my mother, but with red hair instead of blonde, and lots more freckles. My brother and my son are clones of my father, so much so that my son, as a PFC in the Army was the spitting image of a picture of my father when he was a PFC in the Army. My son carried that picture with him to Afghanistan. My son was only six months old when my father died, but he knew the stories of the grandpa he didn't remember. I know my Dad was with my son at the end, just as he was there when my son was born. That was the greatest gift my Dad could ever give me. That was his way. That was my Dad.
Stories of my father are the stuff of legends. Not because he was famous, just famously funny.
The sense of humor that is as much a part of our DNA as the rest of the familial resemblances comes from both my parents, but the wicked part is definitely from my Dad.
We used to call my Dad an equal-opportunity racist, because he had jokes on everybody, every race, gender and ethnicity, but truly did not have harbor any negative opinions about anyone. He was simply a product of his times, where what we would consider to be completely inappropriate now was normal. He would not have fared well in today’s PC world. He was kind of like a lot of the TV shows and movie characters we all grew up with, Archie Bunker, Blazing Saddles, The Jeffersons… filled with comments, characterizations and one-liners that would never be produced or aired today. That was my Dad.
My Dad also did not live long enough to see what the world-wide web would become. I joke that my dad would have found the end of the internet, as he was such a voracious reader and consumer of information. He joined the Army immediately after high school, came home from Korea and went to work so he never went to college, but he had a nearly eidetic memory and remains the smartest person I’ve ever known. If he read it, saw it or experienced it, he could recall it at will. But he was also intelligent in that most important way in that he could reason and rationalize new information and apply it to any situation in life. That was my Dad.
My family loved board games and card games and it wasn’t uncommon for us to sit around and play a game, usually with some sport playing on the TV in the background. My brother, mother, husband and I, all college educated, would compromise one team to oppose my father for a game of Trivial Pursuit. It was often two turns long, and only if we went first because once it was his turn, the game would be over. My mother would have a fit saying to my Dad, “How could you possibly know that?” to his correct answer to some impossible question. My Dad’s answer was invariably, “I read a book (often fiction) that had a character who was a nuclear physicist”, or something equally arcane as he shrugged his shoulders and we all laughed. That was my Dad.
One of my most enduring memories of my Dad is him sitting at the kitchen table reading a book or the newspaper (he got both the Trib and Times EVERY day), with the TV on one sporting event and another sporting event on the radio. My mother would say, “there’s no way you could possibly be paying attention to all three at the same time”, to which my father would give a synopsis of the last page he just read and the score and last play of both the game on the TV and the one on the radio. That was my Dad.
My Dad was a man of his times, meaning he wasn’t exactly involved in child-rearing. But, when my son was born, his first-born grandchild, it was like a switch was flipped. My son had horrible, horrible colic, so sleep was something I remembered but didn’t experience for the first four months of his life. My Dad, who was “semi-retired” at that point would just drop by my house in the middle of the day, with Burger King or McDonald’s for lunch saying, “I was in the neighborhood”. I think he ate more fast-food in those first months of my son’s life than he had cumulatively in all his years. After feeding me, he would tell me to go take a nap while he walked the floor, changed my son’s diaper, burped him and just cooed to him until he fell asleep. Then, he would pull an ever-present book out of his pocket and just sit with that baby in one arm while he read. The running joke was, my mother didn’t know he knew how to change a diaper. That was my Dad.
They say the older we get, the more we appreciate our parents, and miss them after they’re gone. There is great truth in that adage. But what I miss the most are the things that never happened. I would have loved to see what my Dad made of the unlimited, immediate access to information on the internet. When things get politically wonky in this country, I imagine what my Dad would have said about it all, what wisdom and historical context he would have shared about the current shenanigans. Some of it I can hear in the echoes of my brother, some of it in my own mind. My Dad was politically and socially conservative in his world views and compassionate, understanding and dare I say it, downright liberal in his concern for individuals. That was my Dad.
My Dad believed in taking responsibility for one’s own actions. He believed life wasn’t fair, but that was no one’s fault. It just was. He believed that what we get out of life is a direct result of what we put into it, and if you don’t like your current circumstances, maybe you should have made different decisions. He was a merciless tease and jokester, and everybody’s friend. I don’t think I ever knew of someone who had a bad word to say about his character. He was a deeply flawed person, but he never blamed anyone else, never failed to take responsibility, never played the victim though he had more than enough cause. That was my Dad.
Life wasn’t fair to him, he had a hard, hard upbringing. But, he took care of his mother until the day he died. He worshiped the ground my mother walked on. He worked six days a week for most of my life to provide for his family. When he was home, he wasn’t exactly there or involved. He had an explosive temper, like a volcanic eruption that when over was over. He didn’t harbor anger or resentment. My Dad didn’t say, “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” often in words but showed it daily by working himself into an early grave, by taking care of his family before himself. He never went to the doctor. He ate too much, drank too much and smoked too much. That was my Dad.
I don’t just miss my Dad, I’m wistful for the memories we didn’t get to make. I’m sad that he didn’t get to see my son grow up, though I know he was watching. I also know that my Dad and my son are best buddies again, just like when my son was an infant in his arms. My life has taken a lot of strange, sometimes unfortunate and unhappy turns my Dad would not have liked. As much as that makes me sad, the part that makes me most sad is I didn’t appreciate or understand him as much as I should have when I was young. But I know my Dad would forgive me, and simply be happy and proud of who I am today. That was my Dad.
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