Friday, July 21, 2006

About My Dad

The last I heard, he's not walking, not talking, rarely eating or drinking, and really looks like he's about at the end of the line. One would logically assume that I'd be kind of broken up about it. Yes and no.

Yeah, there are a lot of things he and I have never seen eye to eye on. We generally don't get along, don't understand each others' interests or outlooks on the world, life, politics, or even religion. There are times he seemed to deliberately make my life more difficult and stressful than it needed to be. I can't remember him ever playing catch with me, or showing me how to ride a bike, or teaching me the finer points of dating. He doesn't know ANY of my girlfriends, or my other friends for that matter. There are two things I firmly do remember about him:

1. He used to fight with my mom a lot, often in the car on long trips to some vacation destination where me and my brother were trapped in the back seat, forced to listen to it all. Then they'd fight some more when we got where we were going. My brother actually stood outside in sub-zero weather after swimming practice one night until he heard the screaming stop. I'm not sure if he was more afraid to get involved, or that the blame would suddenly shift to him.

2. My dad always brought his work everywhere he went. On holidays, birthdays, anniversaries...no occasion was sacred. Christmas morning he'd stick around just long enough to open presents, then he'd go into the office until at least dinner time. My fondest memory was making paper airplanes out of his extra tax and accounting forms and flying them into the fireplace, maybe subconsciously in the hope that if he ran out of papers to fill out, maybe he'd pay as much attention to me as he did to his adding machine.

I don't have many positive memories of the few years he was "in" my life (mostly at the office), and once I grew up and started gaining my own perspective of how he lived and what his priorities were, I liked him a little less with every passing day.

I'm not fond of him. I think everything about his parenting was wrong. He was never there for me, especially if it conflicted with his schedule. And yet, he could be dead in less than a week, and the gravity of that is hitting me harder by the minute. Why would I suddenly worry about losing someone I never really had?

I think there are also two reasons for this, neither of which will ever be possible, but the permanence of death seals off any chance, however remote, once and for all:

1. I want him to say he's sorry. I know he won't, because I'm sure he doesn't think he ever did anything wrong.

2. I want the dad I never had. I see kids at the park or the ball field or getting piggy back rides or getting help learning to ride a bike. If he willingly got involved in any of these ways with me, I don't remember them (mom did it a lot, not him). I wanted someone to show me how to be a decent man, to stand up for myself, how to charm a lady, how to shave, how to fix machines, how to make your mark on the world and be a good person (those roles all went to my friends and fictional characters in books and movies). I'd like for him to say I did the right thing instead of telling me everything I do wrong, and to admit that I turned out all right despite his best attempts to screw things up and never be there.

I'm going to see him tomorrow, maybe for the last time, and the only thing worse to me than him NOT saying he's sorry is him actually saying he is and meaning it. What then? What have the last 29 years of feelings of frustration and anger and resentment and disdain and abandonment been for? Suddenly everything I believed and felt in my core would be wiped clean, my base eradicated, and my life unsteadied. What if he didn't mean to be a prick, but there really was someone trapped in there all along who wanted to be the role model I so desperately needed all those years? And now there's no time. It's too late.

It's stuff like this that makes you re-center your life, think about your choices and what you do with your time. It's a realization. We're ALL going to die someday. He's my dad. I don't have to like him or look up to him, but he's still my dad. And in maybe a month or less, one of my parents will be in the grave. Forever. Think about that.

Tell someone you care about just how much they matters to you. I did exactly that. Talked to my mom for about three and a half hours tonight and said plain as day, "When you go, it's gonna mess me up. I know I give you a lot of crap sometimes, but you're the reason I turned out anything like I did. You made all the difference." She didn't say much, but I think I got the point across.

I'm not looking forward to the day she or my uncles or my sisters or my brother pass on, but before that happens, I can make sure to tell them they matter a whole lot more to me than they'll ever know.

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