Where This Meets That
The first time I ever saw my dad as someone other than just my “father” came one morning during a visit to my grandparents’ house when I was just seven or eight years old. I can’t remember why, but I was outside the cracked door to the guest bedroom my parents and I shared during our visits, waiting for him to wake up.
My Uncle John Francis, Dad’s eldest brother, noticed me in the hall and asked me what I was waiting for. When I told him, he said, “If you want your daddy up, you oughta just run in there and pounce on him!”
I must’ve looked shocked at the brazen suggestion and answered, “Oh, no sir, you don’t know my dad.”
My uncle was a big fella, especially when I was so little, but he was also a real rascal. When he saw me shrink from the suggestion, he bellowed, “What do you mean, ‘don’t know your dad’? Just watch this!” With that, he burst through the door and bounded toward the bed. Beyond him, I saw my dad’s helpless form alertly tense beneath the sheets, knowing full well what was coming. Uncle John Francis dove right on top and started tickling my dad.
That memory always reminded me that my dad wasn’t only the father and primary disciplinarian in my family but was also a little brother.
From there I grew and, in many ways over the years, grew apart from my father. In attitude. In personality. In passions.
One day in high school, my mom, in her eery intuition, surmised that I might be enlisting in the military after school. She might have been right; I was planning to return to the US Marines recruiting office after school for some follow-up Q&A (though I hadn’t told her). Mom called Dad at his office and told him he’d better have a talk with me, so he left work immediately, checked me out of school, and took me to Stone Mountain Park. There, we had our first (of many since) real heart-to-heart talk. He’d served in the Army after high school and didn’t try to dissuade me; he just wanted to make sure I was considering it for the right reasons. Our talk revealed that I wasn’t, and so I didn’t enlist.
We had many such cycles of alienation and intervention over the decade that followed, but when push came to shove, he was always my father. I always knew I could count on him.
Growing up, I didn’t think Dad had any friends. Which is not to say that he wasn’t friendly – friendliest guy you’d ever meet – but I never knew him to just idly chat away on the phone or go hang out with any other guys on evenings or weekends. Now with four kids of my own, I frequently watch years fall by without catching up with some of my best friends, and I realize that he wasn’t without friends, just without time. It wasn’t until I married and became a father myself that I was able to fully appreciate my father’s “humanness”.
Over these last 14 years or so, one of my greatest treasures of adulthood has been our relationship’s transformation from Father-Son to one between friends. A Brotherhood, even. When I split season tickets with some friends for the Falcons first season of the Smith-Dimitroff era, I took Dad to the opening game, a Falcons rout over the Detroit Lions. The Georgia Dome was absolutely rocking, and I was there with my dad, thinking that life just doesn’t get any sweeter than this.
Last year, I compiled lots of old home movies as a gift for my parents. Among the film I worked with was footage from their wedding and other clips from their young years together. Young. In love. Unknowing what lay before them. Real people. My wife and me.
Through that prism, I look back now at certain moments growing up when I was (in my mind, of course, never out loud) critical or resentful of my father and see instead a real man who, warts and all, stayed true to his family and always had the best intentions in fathering my brother, sisters, and me.
And I will forever be thankful to God for him!
Happy Fathers Day, to my Father, my Father-in-Law, and to all you other fathers out there. Never underestimate your importance!