June 17, 2008

Father's Day

I grew up with a Dad for the ages. Hardworking, strong, dedicated, and loving—honorable to a fault. He embodied the essence of fatherhood usually seen in old movies and quaint television shows. Looking back, every day was a lesson in compassion, wrapped up in sarcasm and manliness. Under his guidance I became adept at speaking, leading, digging ditches, and caring. Nowhere else in life have I witnessed a Renaissance man such as him.

As an adult, I have been critical of his faults with money and his inability to talk about his problems. Slowly though, I have come to realize that my wish that he remain perfect was an impossibly boyish dream. For all he got right in raising the four of us, the few things he got wrong now seem inconsequential. Thanks in large part to my mother, externalizing my problems was never an issue, and if anything, my anger at his insouciance toward finances was based on the fact that I inherited it, and took far too long to fix it in myself. Having a place to lay blame for your shortcomings is always easier than tackling them.

Perhaps the strongest memory I have of growing up with him is one that fills me with a combination of comfort and guilt anytime I wake up in the middle of the night. He worked his way up to Vice President of a New Jersey steel company through guile and determination. Consequently, he needed to be there at the crack of dawn when product started rolling out of the cold, cavernous warehouse. To do this he woke up every day at 3 a.m. I can still hear his diesel truck engine turning over in the icy winter air while I lay comfortably in my bed. It seems I awoke every morning with the belch of that old truck. Each time, I wanted simultaneously to run outside and say goodbye, and to curl into a ball pretending that his life was without difficulty.

To this day, whenever I am unsure or unready to begin a task, I think of him on those dark mornings, alone. How can I not pull myself off the couch to finish the dishes or return to work in the fall after our second child is born? With the thought of his greatness and his fallibility imprinted deeply in my head, I simply do it.

So what’s left to work on? Every day I try to embody the virtues that he bestowed on me and become the best person I can. In this current phase of my life that means teaching Annie all the good that he taught me, ensuring the comfort of my impossibly pregnant wife, and yes, shooting the lowest score possible on the golf course. So, will Annie grow up with the perfect father? More than likely she will; that is until she reaches adulthood and gets around to contemplating life, death, and all that I imprinted on her. For better or for worse.


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