Since I’ve been driving so much for my job now, I’ve taken to listening to podcasts to pass the time. Buying books “on tape” from iTunes has been getting just a liiiittle expensive and there’s only so many times I can listen to the same news on NPR. I’m a huge fan of the Radiolab podcast as well as This American Life (the “Good Guy” epi = amazing). I’m pretty impressed by the way people they interview can recount one really amazing personal story. Storytelling is one skill that’s always evaded me. And if there’s anything about me you should know, it’s that I get really interested in things I can’t do well (examples: farming, running, being a grown up, etc.).
I learned once that the more you tell a story, the less true it becomes. That would be a good problem for me to have cause the details of a story are where I stumble. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of stories to tell you guys but the things that I remember seem to be limited to the things that were big lessons or turning points for me and they’re snippets at best. There is no fear more acute to me than the dreaded sharing of ‘fun facts’ at work functions with a room full of my peers. Maybe I’ve mentioned that I became slightly preoccupied with the notion of a book of essays—till I realized that I have no stories to turn into essays.
So I think I’ve painted a pretty clear pictures of how bad I am with memories… you guys get that, right? That point is important here because I’m writing the rest of this about my dad (and dads in general). I don’t have any great dad stories to tell you because I am not so good at telling stories. What I’m hoping to give you are broad ideas to paint a picture of what my dad means to me. Let me first tell you, again, that I am blessed in the parental department. I have three very special parents who would do anything for my sister and me. My cup runneth over. There are amazing qualities about my mom and there are amazing qualities about my step-mom, Jodi, and I love all three parents the same. Growing up, there was always someone to teach me something, someone to ask questions to and I was lucky enough to have three different teachers and three different perspectives.
Moms are amazing creatures. I think society can agree with me there. Just this morning on the Today show there was a story about how women do it all: wash the kids, dress the kids, pack the lunches, have a career, run the kids to sports/ballet/tumbling, make time for the hubs, make dinner, do the laundry—and because I’ve had two amazing mom examples, I know this to be true. Credit where credit is due, sometimes I think dads get a bad rap. I think the stereotypical dad is the guy that provides financially for the family, is the disciplinarian and generally the TV watcher. I think there are many, many, many dads that break that stereotype into a million pieces and those are the dads that amaze me. I’ve observed my friends as dads, friends of friends as dads, my dad as a dad, TV dads, dads of friends and let me tell you—I have seen some AWESOME dads. That brings me to my dad.
This past week my dad celebrated a birthday and it got me to thinking. In the last five or so years, I’ve observed my dad being my dad much more than I ever have. It’s because I see more of him in me as an adult than I ever have before. My dad is strong, intelligent, capable, hard-working, sensitive, funny, personable, silly and he wears his heart on his sleeve. What you see is what you get with my dad. For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be someone my dad liked; I always wanted him to *see* me. His eyes and his smile and his laugh and his satisfaction were always favors I wanted bestowed upon me. My sister and I used to take turns sitting in the middle seat in the front bench seat of his pick-up truck so that he could rest his giant dad-hand on our knobby little knees when he wasn’t shifting the gear shift. My heart is full of a mishmash of memories of my dad: I’ll always think of my dad wearing a tee-shirt in the middle of winter; of him letting us put barrettes in his hair for hours. I’ll think of him wearing suspenders or riding the subway on our family trip to Washington DC or of teaching me not to be afraid to try new food (my first taste of a mussel at East Side Mario’s). I’ll think of my dad in stories he’s told or the picture of him as an altar boy when he was so young that’s forever burned on my brain. I’ll think of him with his huge family and his hand-me-downs and him drinking powdered milk as a boy. I’ll think of him working from the time he was able baling hay so he could save for things he wanted.
From my dad I learned to be hopeful, I learned to work hard for what I want, I learned to appreciate nice things, I learned the art of giving and I’ve learned patience by watching him (we jokingly refer to it as “the patience of Joe”). He means the world to me and even with all the ups and downs and highs and lows and wrongs and rights in our history, there is nothing in this world I wouldn’t still do to have him laugh with me or smile with me or talk to me or see me. Our relationship is less about my seeking his approval and more about understanding the place where we each come from. Maybe even a little bit of walking a similar path to get where we are now. I couldn’t be more grateful for my dad. Pretty soon, I’ll get to see him as a grandpa to my sister’s baby (truth: I’m excited to see all my parents in the grandparent light). While there are a lot of things my dad isn’t, there are even more things that he is. The scale tips in my favor and I realize how lucky I am.
The beauty of my parental tapestry is that the colors run together so I’ve become who I am from all my parents’ values and lessons and hopes for me running together—to the point where there isn’t just one person who taught me to love and accept and be open-minded. Somewhere along the way, all of this became something I noticed. I’m grateful for that perspective. So on this birthday and all the birthdays to come that I’m lucky enough to spend with my dad, I’ll celebrate him for all the good he’s done, all the good he’s yet to do and all he is.
I envy the closeness and bond you have with your dad. I was in my early 20’s and my dad passed away at the age of 56. I always knew he loved me, never doubted that for a second. He just wasn’t much of a talker and I sometimes wondered what it would be like to really have a conversation together. I miss him every day. You and your dad have a very special bond.