Open Letter to Dad


6/18/11

by guest author R.O.G.

I love my dad very, very much; whenever Father’s Day comes up, it makes me sad that he wasn’t always my hero.  As a child I always thought my dad was invincible.  He was such a strong, domineering figure, and everyone in the family was aware.  Dad could pick me up with one arm, throw me in the air, and catch me with that same arm.  My father was a beast.  He had huge biceps, massive shoulders, and a thick neck (he’s actually still really strong, probably even stronger than I am).  His face was chiseled, with very prominent features and high cheek bones, and he only smiled when it was necessary.  Although I was a well behaved kid, pops was the disciplinarian.  No one was afraid of mom and her threats of punishment, but the moment she said that she would call dad, we straightened out.  If our behavior was egregiously bad, he would walk into the house calmly, go into his room, and then summon us from the dungeon.  We’d walk in, head bowed, hoping for the opportunity for penance.  Dad would either take off his belt or ask us to get his belt from the closet.  Choosing the tool for your own castigation is a sinister psychological ploy that I absolutely plan to use in my offspring!  At any rate, my dad was never abusive, but we always knew who was boss.  Back then I obviously never looked forward to one of those encounters with him; as I matured I appreciated the sense of discipline and accountability he taught my siblings and I.

 

My dad worked a lot, yet we would still make time to go on family road trips like the Griswalds.  We’d pack into the Peugeot and make our way across the country to various places around America.  These would be the times when dad was more loosened up, so he would talk non-stop, point out historical and geographically important monuments, and take pictures incessantly.  Although I would’ve thought these trips a disaster when I became a teenager (not being able to have a minimum wage summer job, couldn’t talk to any new girls I may have met back home, no online chatting {this was well before laptops were affordable, wifi, or cell phones}) I missed seeing my dad with his guard down.  There were very few instances when he would drop the fences a little bit, and it makes me sad he didn’t lower them more often.

 

 

Although I just described my dad as a disciplinarian and a bit gruff, he was the quintessential “yes man.”  I certainly don’t mean a people pleaser or push over; I mean he would always say yes to his children.  Whatever we asked mom for produced a negatory response, so we knew to wait for pops to get home.  Whether it was money for something, to go out somewhere with friends, permission to order pizza, etc, we’d get a favorable response.  He would make us lay out the proper stipulations, but I guess because he was confident with how we would behave, we were rarely denied.  A large part of me wouldn’t be surprised that he felt bad for having to work so much that saying always saying yes was a means for atonement.  As a kid it was hard to balance my ability to always get a yes from my dad while trying to understand my family’s financial predicament.  Apparently I grasped that weird dichotomy well, as I can only think of one or two times that I overstepped my boundaries with materialistic overtures.  At some point in middle of high school I somewhat began to understand why my mother always said no yet my dad would continually answer yes.  In my formative years I simply thought that my dad had more money than my mom, since he was at work so much.  Eventually I realized that she didn’t need to say yes to us.  It’s pretty evident that my dad was a rather complex character.  A stern man with long sideburns, paucity of smiles, and big muscles, but said yes all the time.  I’ve known him all my life and I still don’t fully understand him.

 

Thank God my dad was a sports fanatic.  Every ounce of athletic appreciation I have is attributed to innumerable hours spent watching sports with him.  He didn’t just watch the 4 major sports; dad was also into boxing, the Olympics, tennis, and soccer.  I will always fondly remember dad calling up Time Warner to order the pay-per-view whenever a big boxing match would come one.  He’d go to Radio Shack and buy a few video cassettes so we could record the fight and watch it later.  We’d spend time tweaking the settings on the VCR to try and use as few tapes as possible, without sacrificing too much visual quality.  I loved these nights; these were other times that dad would put his fences down.  Thinking about his collection of super fights on video makes my eyes well up even now, as I realize I need to find a way to get them digitalized.  In addition to his boxing collection, my dad has every slam dunk contest, three point contest, and NBA All-Star game from 1984 to probably 2004 on tape and ready to watch (if you can locate a VCR player).  We never had enough money to actually go to a live sporting event, but I didn’t need to as long as we were watching the game together.  I don’t necessarily cheer for the same teams that my dad used to root for, but I’m an aficionado of nearly every sport, and I owe it all to my father.  In terms of my own achievements, I was always pretty athletic, and easily one of the fastest kids in school.  It was never an option for me to be on the track or football team in middle school because I could never get a ride home.  My dad worked so much; he just didn’t have time to pick me up after practice on a regular basis.  I don’t resent him for that, but I always wanted the opportunity to see him cheer wildly for me and make him proud.  If he could lower his fences watching strangers on TV, how could he not do it if I were running free for a touchdown or winning some sprinting event?  Genetically I had almost zero professional prospects, but it was all about getting affirmation from pops.

 

Participants of the 1984 Slam Dunk Contest … my dad has this on VHS

 

People underestimate the importance of a father because of all the single parent families in America.  Growing boys have no idea how to be men without a prominent, positive male figure in their lives.  Maybe more importantly, women have no idea how they are supposed to be loved and treated by a boyfriend or husband.  Girls take the example of how dad treated them and their mother, and expect the same in return from their mate.  Not to play relationship counselor, but if dad treated mom and daughter like crap, daughter is going to gravitate to the 1st guy who treats her with even a semblance of respect, even if she can do exponentially better.  Subtract the father figure from the equation all together, and where do women get their romantic expectations?  Books, movies, television, their peers, an immature, pubescent boy who never knew his father?  Society certainly can’t teach an individual woman how to be loved, and no woman can fully teach another what to expect from a man and what a man needs from a woman.  It’s a nasty situation that plagues American relationships.  My dad was never affectionately demonstrative, and I’ve maybe seen my parents kiss ten times, but he made it obvious that he loved and respected my mother.  He was extremely old skool and traditional, but he would regularly cook for both of them and wash dishes if she was just too tired.  I can recall him doing subtle, albeit important, things like telling her a certain dish she prepared tasted really good or checking her oil and tires before she’d drive to work.  He made it obvious to us that he enjoyed being around her.  They would always go shopping together, and I could hear them stay up late talking and watching movies.  Dad was very even keeled and measured, but he would get ferociously angry anytime one of us would talk back to my mother or make a snide comment towards her.  I appreciate my dad for stressing the importance of respecting your wife, and I will make sure it’s something I do, and pass down to my children.

 

Everyone has flaws, and my dad made several bad financial decisions to try and help his less fortunate siblings and provide security for him and my mom after retirement.  Most of my life he had to work far too much in order to compensate for those choices.  As a mature man who understands responsibility I admire his work ethic, but as a son, I just wish I could have had more time with him.  I love my dad more than any other man in the world, but I sometimes feel he’s a stranger.  Is he the stern, gruff man who rarely smiles, or is he the guy would watch basketball with me for 5 straight hours and never stop smiling?  Thankfully dad is still alive, so I still have the opportunity to figure out these things.  It’s not going to be easy, but I don’t want to regret not understanding the complexities of my own father.  I look forward seeing dad lower his fences as my wife walks down the aisle and as we light up a few Cubans to celebrate my son being born.  The image of dad acting giddy and taking scores of pictures while on a post-retirement trip with my mom gives me encouragement that he won’t have to work a lot indefinitely.  Although my dad wasn’t always my hero, he is a wonderful man who has taught me a lot.  As America honors all father’s this Sunday, I will begin my quest to understand the complexities and develop a friendship with the man who gave me everything he could … including his Y chromosome.


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