So much of what we learn comes from our father if we’re lucky enough to have one in our lives. From the big jobs we take to the smallest, most innocuous habits you never questioned. These things are naturally part of who you are because of the man who raised you, for better or worse. In your eyes, he’s a god, or at least the closest thing to one you’ve seen.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a “classic dad.” In the summers of my early childhood, we spent Saturdays washing and waxing our old Chevy (bench seats with no seatbelts, those were the days) and Sundays, driving it to the car show, drinking lemonade in the sun and waving to everyone. Some weekends, we’d cruise over to St. Louis and see the Cardinals play, our favorite team, hands down. I remember going to the game when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire broke homerun records. Every summer day was like an episode of The Wonder Years.
When I got a little older, he volunteered to coach my basketball team — that’s two practices each week and sometimes as many as three games each weekend — while working a demanding dozen-hour day, six days a week in the brutal Illinois seasons. I only recall him missing one little league game, and I remember how bad he felt.
After graduating college, he supported my stubborn whims to be a writer, based on a hunch that had nothing to do with my degree, which he paid for, despite having no clue if I had a snowball’s chance in hell at success. He was just proud that I was his son and wanted me to be happy, like many fathers feel, especially around Father’s Day.
Amongst the many lessons we learn, from the value of a hard day’s work to the importance of family, honesty, and a man’s word, we start to learn lessons without him and form our own opinions. And as the world spins, we go off on our own and things begin to quickly change and with any luck, you learn healthier, more sustainable ways of living. But sometimes, those ideas and behaviors don’t quite align with the vision your father, the man you admire and respect above all others, set out for you.
It’s a story as old as man, but you never truly understand it until you’re in it.
Now, it’s probably not the Father’s Day card either of you had in mind, but maybe instead of buying a thoughtful Hallmark card somebody else wrote and then put their unwashed appendages all over, why not have a conversation with him this year? Like a real man-to-man talk. Get to know your dad as a person. The man spent most of his life doing things for you, worrying he’s going to screw you up, bailing you out of jail, covering for you when your mother found your porn stash, picking you up when you had too many drinks well before the legal age, and now it’s your turn (to worry about him, maybe bail him out of jail, too).
From age 23 on up to 30, every Christmas I came home, my father and I went to the basement to shoot pool, have a whiskey and after about four or five games in, he’d chalk his stick and ever so casually ask, “So, are you happy?” And every year, I would gauge my life’s progress based on that one conversation. Am I moving in the right direction? Am I becoming somebody my father would be proud of? By the time I hit 30, it was time for him to retire, so I flipped the script and started asking him what he was planning to do with his life.
Listen, it’s every dad’s job to shield his kids from certain things in the world, those things varying from father to father. In our house, we never challenged our religious, political or ethical beliefs. We just made sure I was going to graduate whatever school I was in and then get a job with benefits so he could stop worrying about me.
The sad reality is you can never truly, fully know someone that much older than you. When you grow up in different periods of time, it’s hard to genuinely know what each of you has seen. But you can talk about it, gain perspective on it, and you can even disagree about it.
In 2016, I realized my dad and I aren’t that much alike, and that’s OK. Turns out, I don’t even like the Cardinals! My grandfather, a savant when it came to the game of baseball, all too easily brought me over to a Chicago Cubs side. As far as I know, my dad still calls me his son.
He may not vote for the people I vote for, may not have faith in the same things I have faith in, and he sure as hell doesn’t plan on penning a novel in his retirement (though he’s got the stories, for sure), but that doesn’t mean I don’t value his opinion above all others when it comes to the big decisions, the direction of my life and the road to finding peace within myself.
Times being what they are, hopefully, you’re forced to take a long look in the mirror, admit past mistakes and fortify a better plan moving into the future. Admitting when you’re wrong is hard enough to do with yourself, let alone somebody else, but without fail, if there’s anyone who will listen without judgment, it’s your father.
This Father’s Day, give him that chance, and you can offer him the same kindness. Even if you don’t see eye to eye, you can agree to disagree and form new opinions from it. But given that there are at least six feet between you at the moment, it’s never been harder to physically see eye to eye anyway, so there’s no better time than now.
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