Usually the father I talk about on my blog is Yours Truly because, let’s face it, that guy is fascinating. But seeing as today is Father’s Day, and I’ve only been a dad for three and a half hellish and interminable years, we’re going to talk about someone far more boring: my dad.
My father is a veteran of the daddy wars, having raised three kids (if you can say that any guy whose wife gave birth to children in the ’60s and ’70s actually “raised” anyone, which we know you can’t since we’ve all seen Mad Men and good dads are an entirely 21st century construct. I’m just glad he quit smoking cigarettes before I was born).
Like most fathers, he was determined to mold me and my brothers into well-rounded, compassionate, successful, miniature versions of himself. (Because what is having children if not the ultimate example of narcissism?) And that required some teaching.
In honor of Father’s Day, I’m going to talk about some of the lessons my father brought to bear during his ongoing tenure as my dad. Lessons that, unfortunately, I failed to absorb even a little bit.
Because teaching your kids is a fool’s errand.
Everything you want them to learn they largely ignore, everything you try to steer them away from they glom onto like rebellious little leeches, and the lessons they ultimately do absorb are lessons you probably don’t even realize you’re imparting. It’s not that all parents are bad teachers, it’s that most kids are terrible students. And I was no exception.
Here are a few lessons my father tried — and failed — to hammer into me:
1. Know thyself.
Before I left for college, my father clued me into a little something about myself that he’d known for years, but that I’d somehow remained oblivious to: my addictive personality. He had witnessed me collect Garfield comics I WAS A CHILD GET OFF ME and Rush albums I WAS A LOSER GET OFF ME and on the eve of my departure, he told me to beware of the far more dangerous temptations that awaited me in the big city. I, of course, ignored him, and quickly fell prey to several new addictions, which included wearing an over-sized barn jacket and being shunned by girls.
2. Computers and Chinese.
For years, my father half-jokingly droned on and on about how I needed to focus my studies on computers and Chinese — because, he would yell after his third Scotch, “One day a Chinese computer company is going to rule the world!” or something like that. But I ignored him, because I’m not a nerd, DAD, I’m a creative. I don’t do coding and motherboards and math and stuff. I do unemployment and not-getting-paid-for-writing. Deal with it!
3. Marriage is forever, and forever is a very long time.
My father has been married to the same woman for 50 years. Amazing. Yet, despite the fact that he and my mother seem very happy and and I can’t even recall witnessing them raise their voices at each other let alone having an actual fight, I’m pretty sure my dad occasionally attempted to warn me off marriage by blinking Morse Code messages to me over family dinner. Unfortunately, I was too busy bitching about the disgusting zucchini portion of the well-rounded dinner plate he and my mother provided for me and my brothers every single night, so I missed his frantic signals and eventually grew up and emulated his actions and not any secret messages I may or may not be imagining and got happily married myself, just like him. In your face, Dad!
4. Being a fan. My dad is a Yankees fan. And a New York Giants fan. If your definition of a “fan” is “someone who constantly finds fault with everything his favorite teams are doing even when they’re winning.” Which is pretty much his. But he loves his teams, even without living or dying for them, and he probably wanted me to follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately for him, I’m not a terrible person, so I chose the Red Sox. (And the Dolphins. Shut up.) He had failed to teach me yet again! I’ll be pissed if my kid chooses to root for my team’s biggest rival, but my father never seemed to care. Probably since his teams were always winning when I was growing up.
Or maybe it was just because he was letting me be me, which is kind of becoming a recurring theme here. My dad has never tried to pressure me into being someone I’m not, even if it was something as trivial as being a Yankees fan.
He watched as I learned about myself and the things I was interested in, surely cringed a bit when he saw me dive headfirst into one silly obsession after another, and encouraged me when he saw my passion and my abilities coincide. Despite the things he may have wanted for me — degrees in lucrative fields, season tickets to the Yankees, a swinging bachelor lifestyle — he let me become who I am, on my own. Not without guidance, mind you, but certainly without pressure or restriction.
That’s what I really learned from him while he was attempting to teach me other things, and that’s exactly what I hope to be able to do for my son. I’m excited about watching Detective Munch grow up and develop into the person he’s going to be. I’m interested in seeing him stumble into and out of different versions of himself, and thanks to being raised this way by my own dad, I’m open to letting him experiment and make mistakes — within reason, but without reproach.
The danger of this technique is that you have to wait until you’re in your 70s before your kids have any idea who they are or what they’re doing with their lives. Of course, when I hit 70, it’s gonna be ALL HEROIN ALL THE TIME, so I doubt I’ll even have any idea what my son is up to! (Kidding, of course.) But my dad seems OK with both the waiting and the results, which is further testament to the gentle guidance, unconditional love and patient (occasionally teeth-gritting) acceptance with which he raised me and my brothers.
So thanks, Dad, for helping us become who we are without forcing us to be things we’re not. Although these past few years watching the Dolphins, I kinda wish you’d pushed a little bit harder on the Giants.
Happy Father’s Day!