I rarely write about my father. People often ask me if I have any kind of relationship with him or if we’re close at all and the funny thing is, although we have our differences in politics, literature and opinions, we’re a lot closer and a lot more alike than even we like to admit at times. He often tells me, “you’re more and more like your mother every day. You don’t know how to pick your battles.” He’s probably right. Humorously, I was recently in line at Walmart and had waited with approximately 10 other customers in the 20 items or less “speedy checkout” lane while a grandmother and her 5 grandchildren piled over, and yes I counted, 150 items onto the conveyor belt, as she screamed at the checkout lady, “Faster girl!” The groans and moans of the other customers were heightened by the grandmother’s need to put back items such as Kool-Aid and Turkey Bacon, “NOT my pork rinds and sour cream…they’re for my diet!”, due to the lack of credit on her food stamp card. She continued to bark orders from behind an oxygen tank and mask while sitting in her electric wheelchair packing a box of Newports against her hand. “We only need to get down $16 more dollars!” she screamed at the kids. Quickly I reached in my wallet and took out a twenty and handed it to the cashier and smiled. It was truly only an act I could have rehearsed by witnessing my father in such moments, who would have done it, not altruistically, but because he had been “cooling his heels” for quite enough time. The woman turned around and smiled at me, “Bless you”, she whispered as she took the three dollars and some change of MY twenty dollar bill from the cashier and tucked it, tightly, into her bra. As she scooted off, the patrons behind me began to clap.
I had become my father…
Later, when I read my best friend the following letter, she smiled as she watched me finishing it, tears streaming down my cheeks, having waited so long for this wonderful acknowledgment. “Between your mother and your father”, she said, “you never had a chance.” And we both laughed. She had met him the summer before and told me how she watched him as I swam in his pool and how excited he was to talk to me and debate over issues. And in thinking back on this and all of the years before, I think what you must understood most about my father, is that he is completely misunderstood. While trying to find pictures of us from when I was younger I came across hundreds and hundreds of the most amazing photographs, but none had him in them. I only realized later this was because he had taken all of the photographs. The ultimate observer of life.
One year, this man known for his creativity, imagination and stealth risk taking abilities, made a Press Pass for the US Open and walked straight into Flushing Meadows, court-side, with his large Nikon camera around his neck, very much the image of a professional photographer. I used to receive tee shirts from places like Honduras or Banff Canada, where he would go sailing or hiking, typically by himself until he met other lone travelers.
At my age, he wore old tee shirts, faded jeans ripped in the knees, square toed boots, trucker hats, Porsche Carerra sunglasses and he sported a short beard. Today, he can often be found in some of the same attire. He can charm you with discussions of anything from native languages of several countries, the politics of Islam, Ann Coulter or tell you a joke he heard in surgery. He is happiest at home on the lake with his dogs, smoking a cigar, watching nature explode around him. My dad knows the words to tons of Willie Nelson songs but performed surgery, probably yours, to ZZ Top. He has sculpted and painted with movie stars, written books, made his own wood-cutting pressings and saved lives…mine, most importantly.
I guess, for quite some time, the hardest thing of all…is that I’ve wanted to be him. And if not be, than be accepted, because after all, don’t we just want to be loved and validated? So what I’m really trying to say, in this long winded introduction, is…thanks Dad! After everything you’ve ever done or given to me, this, by far, was the greatest gift of all!
A Dad’s Letter on Father’s Day
I have a description of Holidays: If the mail doesn’t come, the trash is not picked up, the banks are closed and you are off work, it is a Holiday; if not, it is a Hallmark Day!! Hallmark Days do not require any special attention other than what the guilt trippers of society wish to impose on us. That being said, I would like to reflect if I may on this artificial holiday.
When you came into this world, I was knee deep in a very demanding and competitive residency. Other than taking care of middle of the night feedings and walking you around Evanston when I would get home and your mother would say to me, “Here, you take him, he has been crying all day!” I must admit that your mother did most of your care for the first two years. There were good times obviously, I well remember you trying to knock my drink off of the round coffee table we had so I would divert you by letting you tear up newspaper in front of the fire place.
Later I remember I won a Santa Visit at a charity auction and when he drove up in front of our house in a Ford Bronco, you questioned his authenticity. I kept you believing in Santa a couple of more years by telling you that he got into our house the same way the radio or television signal did, and that we only gave you the chimney story because the microwave theory was above your level of comprehension.
I remember too, having to reschedule surgery so I could make it to your Epworth pre-school to enjoy crackers and butter you and your classmates made. Later on when you were involved in all the usual school activities I tried to do my part. Your mom enrolled us in a group called Foolish fathers. This group was set up by moms to make dads get the kids out of the house on Saturday morning. We had wonderful mornings together on gray rainy days having a hot dog cook out at 10 in the morning at the Noblesville Pumpkin Farm followed by a wet hay ride. Oh! The joy. When it was my turn I rented a Noble Romans and we all made pizza at 10 in the morning.
Later on when you were in Hockey I remember those 5:30 a.m. Saturday mornings getting you into your hockey uniform. You never could understand why you needed a cup in your jock strap. I said just do it. And then there were all those wonderful times we went twice a year to visit Phil, Sue, Shelly and Betsy. The time we went to Hawaii and our numerous skiing trips to Vail together. What great memories.
Later when Debbie(my stepmother)came into our life we had trips to the Caribbean and that really special trip to Williamsburg!!(Family joke!) How many trips to Chicago and of course the shopping for Gucci watches. Our Christmas in London and New Years Eve somewhere outside Oxford. Now that you were older and school involved more planning, it was Debbie who scheduled your flights and tutors and whatever. How fondly, I remember your school concerts and violin practice. (ee ah, ee ah, ee ah) Actually they became quite good and I even embarrassed you once by shouting out at the end of your recital; Bravo, Bravissimo!
Your announcement to us that you were gay and our total acceptance. Your earlier boyfriends and now Alex, your fiance. All of whom have added a dimension to you and our lives that can never be replaced. And probably most of all your sobriety which took so much personal courage and commitment and has taken you so far from those black days that started at Perkins Restaurant on that cold wet December 17th morning. (I will try to forget your DWI attorney who charged us $2000 up front for the worst defense ever offered by an attorney anywhere).
Your successes at Fairbanks and now in your own very successful practice there are so many elements of which a dad can be proud. I just thought it might be worthwhile to reminisce on this “Holiday” dedicated to dads. As dads go, you could have done a lot better than you did, but you could also have done worse. As a dad whose dad never once hugged me or said he loved me I believe he did. He just did not have the ability to show that side of himself. He did give me however a great gift. Get up, Show up and don’t whine.
My mom would have loved this. Especially that he said it before it was too late…because we’re on borrowed time as it is.