As anyone who has ever met my family will tell you, I look like my mom. But as anyone who has ever met my family will also tell you, in every other respect I am very much like my dad – who’s been in and out of the hospital since Christmas (back in right now) and therefore has been the subject of my thoughts more than usual lately.
Much of my personality, for both good and bad, is from my dad. We’ve clashed from time to time since I was a teen, as many fathers and sons do — and if we’re being honest, most of our conflict comes down to the fact that while we are motivated by often opposing intellectual beliefs and passions, we embrace those beliefs and passions with virtually the same zeal, behaviors and character. We are, in a great many respects, mirror images of one another — it’s like arguing with yourself, with your opponent using the same rhetorical devices, the same arguments, the same style and displaying the same flaws and strengths that you have. When one’s right hand goes up, the reflection’s left does the same. And in the other, we see both the things we like most in ourselves and the things that most disappoint us about our own selves — only, the flaws are magnified when we see them in the other. This dynamic has made our relationship, while strong, frustrating at times.
But despite this, I know that much of who I am comes from my dad. A long time ago, Dad taught me to square my shoulders, proper footwork, when to look for a breaking ball, and who Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were; today, I love baseball like no other sport and baseball is our most common ground. “Baseball guy” is a big part of his identity, and an equal part of mine.
From my dad, I inherited my dedication to my work and to doing an honest day’s job by giving my absolute best no matter what I’m doing; I’ve also inherited the tendency for this trait to veer into working too hard. From my dad, I inherited my strong sense of right and wrong, and the willingness to make a stand when that sense is violated; I also inherited my seeming inability to relate to or understand any situation in which my black and white sense of “right” doesn’t fit into the shades of gray.
Dad also gave me one of his greatest gifts: like him, I am a storyteller. My mom gave me the gift of teaching me how to write… but it’s Dad who through his example showed me what to write ABOUT. To pay attention to the small details, to convey not just what occurred but what it was like to be there, to find the needle of an entertaining detail in the haystack of ‘stuff that happened.’ And yes, from Dad I also inherited my maddening aversion to brevity and my inability to get to the point of anything or any story without including each of these small details, things that make the story for me but can cause eye rolls in those who just want to know the bottom line point.
Most of all, from my dad I have inherited my impassioned devotion to and love for my kids; I have also received, it seems, his difficulty in understanding or accepting when our kids don’t embrace the same things or choose the same paths as we would if we were given the chance to start all over again and be in their shoes. It doesn’t mean that we love them any less, just that we want them to be more like us than they want to be. This stubbornness doesn’t come from arrogance or a desire to control as much as it comes from just fiercely loving our kids, wanting their lives to be extraordinary, and believing that our experience can help them and that what we know can benefit them. Now that I’m a father, I get why my dad has been so impassioned at times about what I ought to do in my life. It used to frustrate me, back when I was younger and trying with equal passion to establish myself for myself and not him or anyone else. Now, I think about it and know how much my dad cares about me and how many of his own hopes were projected onto me, because I already see myself being the same way toward my son. I’ll do it to my daughter too someday, I am sure, when she is old enough to begin being her own person and not just a reflection of who I’d most like to be.
I hope that someday, both of my kids come to the understanding I now have of my dad — that no matter how many times we butted heads, how many times they rolled their eyes at me and my seeming intrasigence or resistance to seeing things any way but my own, no matter how frustrated I may make them at times… all these things sprung from caring and loving so deeply that I couldn’t help myself. In the end, if I am as much like my dad and he is as much like me as I know him to be, then he will in his golden years look back and wish most passionately for just one thing: that his kids see him as a good man who gave them the best of himself, and knew how much he loved them. And hopefully, if my kids come to that understanding someday, they’ll say so while I’m still here and can be happy about it.
I’m glad you’re still here, Dad. So, don’t worry. I know. And thank you.