I never talked with my father about important things. My father was not my confidant, my mentor, my counselor, or my adviser. I have friends who to this day consult with their fathers about important things… what to study, where to work, where to live, who to marry, what to drive, to buy or rent, how to manage their money, how to run their businesses… I could not imagine having this kind of relationship with my father. It was incomprehensible to me. The pieces were not there. There was no interface. No way to plug it in. We didn’t just speak different languages, we were from totally different solar systems. That kind of communication… connection… that kind of relationship.. was inconceivable to me. But, I was envious of these guys. I did not have the relationship with my father that I would have liked. We didn’t have the relationship that I want to have with my kids.
He was not my role model. I think a lot of us don’t want to become like our parents. When we see our parents in the way we look, talk, act… parent our children… well, we don’t like it; we hate it. But for me with my father, I think it was even more acute. I did not want to become like my father in any way. I wanted to actively distinguish myself from him. I wanted to chart a different course for my life than he did for his or would for mine. Actually, that makes it sound like I tried to figure him out. Actually, I didn’t. I actively tried to make decisions without any concern for his opinion in the least. Secretly, deeply I wanted his approval, but was disappointed often enough that I quit trying, utterly.
Don’t misunderstand me. My dad was not a bad guy. Not at all. There are a lot of people with bad dad stories… drugs, alcohol, abuse, abandonment. That is not my story. And I don’t want to give that kind of impression at all. My dad was a good guy. And he was a good dad. It took me too long to realize it. I realize it more and more as time goes on, as I grow older.
My father passed away ten years ago, the day before Christmas Eve 1999. Is it that he is no longer with us, that I have learned to appreciate him more? Is it because he is dead that I don’t have to contend with him any more? Would I appreciate him as much if he were still around? When my father passed away, we were on good terms. We didn’t have any outstanding issues between us. Nothing that was left unsaid. Our accounts were clear, at least as clear as they could have been at the time. I have changed. I have grown over the past ten years. I’ve learned to appreciate where he was coming from. I’ve learned to appreciate where he was coming from on issues… social, religious, political… I still may not agree, but I’ve learned to appreciate and respect his opinion. His point of view, his world view, his life, and experience.
Could we relate as adults now? Or would I still be a kid. On the verge of my fortieth birthday–man, that is hard to believe–but on the verge of my fortieth birthday would he still treat me like a kid? Could we be friends now? Could he be my counselor now?
I say we never talked about important things. That may be hyperbole, but I recall that very often our conversations about important things would end in an argument. I used to be very much at odds with my father about a great many things. And there was no one I could argue with more vigorously than my father. Now I am beginning to realize that my father was right about a lot. In time I may find that he was right about everything.
It started subtly, this notion, this apprehension. It snuck up on me. Surprised me. Last fall, I was working in the yard. We were rearranging our flowerbeds. We had these rose bushes scattered around. They had not been care for well by our house’s previous owners. They were wild and misshapen. We thought we’d clean them up, prune them, and put them all together in one place to make a little rose garden. There was also this pile of rocks on the side of the house that wasn’t doing anything, just collecting dirt and weeds. We transplanted three rose plants to a flower bed in the front of the house, to join one plant that was already there. We laid down some weed control fabric. We cleaned those rocks and covered up the fabric. When we were nearly done, I had a flashback to my childhood home. This rose garden in front of my house bore an uncanny resemblance to the rose garden we had in the front of the house I grew up in. Down to the same kind of rocks. Weird. How had circumstances conspired with my subconscious to make my house become more like the house I grew up in–my dad’s house?
I was talking to my step-mother the other day on the phone. I had to tell her how I was finding that I was becoming more like my dad in surprising ways. I told her that when I got my Oklahoma driver’s license I also registered to vote, as a Democrat. I haven’t been registered as a Democrat since I lived in my dad’s home–before I knew better–before I realized that “Christians were Republicans.” My father was a life long liberal and Democrat. He was also not only a member of the California Teachers Association, but an officer for a number of years. I find that I am now also a strong supporter of organized labor. Capital is organized; labor should have a right to organize. I’m not in a union though–there are unions for state employees, but the university is not unionized. I am, however, entertaining the idea of joining the IWW just out of principle. I may end up being more liberal than my father before long.
My father was a Christian. I am a Christian. So it probably goes without saying that on matters of religion, there were ample opportunities to butt heads. Just one example… My dad would say things like, “You don’t have to go to church to worship God.” I used to think that was just a cop out. He was just lazy and preferred to watch football. Now I think that a lot of people, probably most, would be better off if they’d just stay home. How I arrived at that conclusion I’ll save for another post.
So, I’m becoming like my dad. And that’s alright. I love my dad. I miss my dad. He is with me because he’s in me in good ways.