That Dad

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mom, That Dad, Me, Dude giving me something:
                                                                                                               almost exactly 20 years ago today 

You know what I'm really getting into?

Fifteen days ago from a hospital he'd never leave, my dad posed that question. 

I didn't know the answer. 
I didn't know the answer because, well, it could have been anything. 

Ten years ago my mother and I were at Publix; the context has been lost, but mom said "that dad has more admirable qualities than anyone I've ever met."

We called him That Dad.  I've forgotten why that is also, other than it just suited him somehow.

Among those admirable qualities wasn't necessarily his joketelling, but he had a way with non sequiturs that my mom and I would retell for years.  It was not long after some procedure over the past decade that the three of us ordered pizza; he was taking some type of prescribed pain medication and was silent even more than usual - it had been, easily 15 minutes since he had spoken when the pizza arrived, and in a very matter of fact way as I brought it into the room he said, "Freak Out."

Funny to me.

You know what I'm really getting into?

Hell, I don't know.  Banjos?  The bankruptcy code?  Brutus the Barber Beefcake?  It could be anything.

I didn't know because I didn't know him that well.  I knew dad liked God and string theory and Tiger Woods and my mom, but beyond that, I didn't know him that well.

We were different; our interests, our passions, our ways of looking at the world - we were different; he was That Dad, private and solid and quiet and contemplative in that way that men can be, and I'm almost entirely locked inside my own head in a world that only tangentially has ever included people who are not me; we weren't a good bet for long talks about our insides.  We were neither close nor distant; I don't have a Great Santini story that has informed my character.  If we had an argument more recently than 1986 I can't recall it.  We were fine.  That doesn't have a lyrical quality, I recognize.   No sturm.  No drang.  No hurly. No burly.

My brothers are not me and they may have different stories to tell.  But they wouldn't have too many jagged edges.  I was describing that dad to my lady type friend at his service, and the best way I could do it was that there wouldn't possibly be any reason for anyone to dislike him.

I mean - I dig me, but others do not, and some for perfectly understandable reasons, and I recognized that when I was about eleven.  My lady type friend is my very favorite thing, but she's told me of prior co-workers who didn't like her and I saw how that could be.  They suck, obviously, and more likely than not could have benefited from better pre-natal nutrition.  But I get it.  I'll fight you with my fists if you say something bad about my mother, but I can absolutely see how, in a workplace setting, you could get on her bad side and get taken apart and leave that encounter muttering unkind things.  You should mutter them quietly and perhaps take it as a learning moment to improve at your job, but I could see how it might happen.  The qualities that I like, you do not.  Horses for courses, as they say. 

But that dad was just kind.  I mean, motivated by kindness.  He would give the last twenty in his wallet to the homeless and spent the last decade of his life ministering to prisoners.  He genuinely wanted good for people. There'd be literally no circumstance where anyone would ever say "what a jerkoff that guy is" - he just treated people the way he would want to be treated.  He didn't aspire to it - that's who he was.  He genuinely wished for you good things.

And for me too.  He liked when I won stuff or was otherwise recognized publicly.  He was glad that I found someone to spend my life with.  We didn't discuss any of that; I'm me and he was that dad and that's not how it worked.  But I knew.  I went away to college when I was 17; I take pride on paying for law school and grad school by myself, through a combination of loans and academic scholarships - but my parents covered the vast majority of my undergraduate degree; I don't get to have the life that I've had without his waking up at five AM to drive an hour to work every morning for a decade.  Neither of my parents had the luxury of spending their young adulthood on a campus; and the rural Ohio high school to which I went didn't place too many of its students in four year universities; that was not the culture in which I existed - but it literally never crossed my mind, even one time, that I wouldn't be going directly to college.  It was just assumed in my house, from as long as I could recall, that of course, I'd go from high school to college and of course I would do well.  I didn't have a thought contrary to that. 

That doesn't happen without that dad.  I don't get my life without him.  And we didn't discuss it.  And I hope he knew that I understood all of that and I was grateful.

My dad's been dead 15 days, and I'm teaching 7 classes and trying to find a house to move into before the bank takes the one into which I've sunk every penny I have; I'm busy every minute of every day except when I'm not and when I'm not it's just a crashing wave of sad.  He was 62 and there and now he's not and I have nothing of value to say.  It's crummy.  It's not redeeming or illuminating or prosaic.  It's crummy. 

You know what I'm really getting into?

My mom and I looked at each other.  'Cause it could have been anything.


And that was my dad.  He was just like that.

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