Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dads and Fathers and Real Men

It's a beautiful day in Atlanta. Which is to say that at noon it's less than 90 degrees and the humidity doesn't knock you to your knees as soon as you walk out the front door.

I love being here with my Dad and Mom. I'm sure my sleepy hug around his shoulders this morning wasn't as cute as when I dove into his arms at 4 years old, many many moons ago, but maybe it means more in a small way. He helped get me this far. Still sustains me with his faith in me.

He spent a lot of years working grueling jobs in kitchens and the restaurant industry to take care of us. When his heart got squirrely and he had to be on disability, he helped support us with a fruit and vegetable stand on Memorial Drive and then later, once healed up, with computer work - back when they needed people to change reel to reel tapes. (lol) There were some years in high school that I'd work until closing at Wendy's and then he'd pick me up to go with him to help deliver the Sunday papers in boxes all over the city before dawn so the bills got paid.

Those were hard times, with me working two jobs, sometimes without our having much in the fridge, but they made me stronger.

There were five of us kids, and he managed to put food on the table, keep us off the streets, and sometimes even had some wisdom to share.

When I turned 16 he gave me a $100 bill and commiserated with how hard it was to be a teen, remembering his own youth. Then he paused, and pointedly said, "As hard as it is to be a teenager, honey, just know... that it's all downhill from here on out."

(Being an irritatingly eternal optimist, I have always wondered if "all downhill" means it's going to go to crap, or it's all easy, like when you coast down a hill on your bike?)

I took it with the conflicted cynical view of a teen. Now I see it as a paradox, that "downhill" means both entropy and coasting. It's the path of least resistance.

Dad took a lot of those paths, like we all do. But I'm still impressed that he did the things that had to be done. These days, when I play barmaid, I appreciate all over again that work is work, and while all of it has dignity, it ain't easy!

My biggest struggle is to tame my monkey mind, when work is slow. I joke that I'm about to chew my leg off, when everything has been cleaned, and there aren't any customers, and interesting conversations with co-workers and patrons have dwindled.

I imagine Dad had the same struggles, being gifted with a quick wit and mind. It makes his work all the more meaningful, to know that while he did manage plenty of restaurants, and was a "turn around" guru, that he mostly just had to do the grind - deal with kids who didn't show up for work, customers who couldn't be made happy, and stupid accidents on the prep line.

But this is what Dads do. They do what has to be done. And this is what Daddy taught me - that you do what you have to do and you get through.

Unlike fatherhood, so exalted on this day, it takes more than sperm to be a Dad. Real Men become Dads. They don't let the grind of work or other daily distractions keep them from being role models to their kids. They work hard but they also show up at games, and take their kids fishing, or maybe just make breakfast on weekends. They cook on the grill, light fireworks, and fix the cars and then somehow let you cry when you bust your knee, but don't let you wallow in it.

Anyone can become a biological father - I had one of those too. He meant well but could never fully step into the role. It required more sacrifice than he could make. We repaired some of that before he died, in '98, but not enough. Fact was he didn't know how to do relationships, tho he tried. Because I was blessed with my Dad, John, my biological Father didn't have to try to fill those big ole shoes. I think Edwin was happier on the sidelines.

Dads figure out how to stay connected to their kids. They let their kids grow up, refusing to do for us, and push us to do for ourselves, learn from our mistakes. They encourage us and exhort us to become more.

We want more than anything to make them proud. That's because approval doesn't come easy. Ideally, we have to earn their respect. But never doubt their love.

And while they become more human, imperfect and even maybe a bit frail as we all age, we know that they did their best, and that is how Dads keep our respect.

The best Dads make the best husbands too - they show their kids how to love and respect themselves, AND the woman in their life. They keep their word, and slog thru good times and bad in a marriage. They put their wives in the front seat - as partner, and helpmate. They are romantic and sweet and show how grateful they are for a woman who loves them all the way thru. Despite their faults.

Even tho they got divorced years ago, Daddy dancing with Mommy was one of the most important lessons I ever learned. That's what love looks like.

Great Dads demonstrate courage and how to have fun, and think deeply about things, even if it's just how a trout sees the world. And they teach us those things, sometimes directly, but often just by doing stuff with you.

Ultimately, it's about having a shoulder isn't it? A shoulder to cry on, a shoulder to hug, a shoulder to lean on, and laughter that makes you pound on that same shoulder, in tears.

Over breakfast today Mom and I were talking about hawks. I mentioned that a red-tailed tried to take my biggest hen, years ago, tho she was at least 10 - 12 pounds. Mom asked if it killed her. Shortly I replied, frowning, "No, I did."

Well, Mom and Dad weren't going to let that go. I had to confess, squirming inside, that I'd put the hen, injured, into a box with sevin dust because I thought she had mites. They laughed like hell, (I had to join in) and Daddy commented I should have buried her under the tomatoes (which need sevin dust sometimes).

Then he reminded me of the goldfish I killed, at age 7, while cleaning the bowl with hot water. (How was I to know they didn't like hot water? I didn't use soap!)

What a sweet moment, with a man who has informed more of my life than he'll ever know. From my love of country music (which he calls American Opera), to my appreciation for a corny sense of humour, to my passion for dancing, to my taste in men.

See, he's not just my Dad, he's Daddy. Still growing and changing, even if some of that is more crusty and bad tempered. Hell, he's earned it. Still inspires me to do more, while he's still creating trouble, if no longer on a Harley.

Love you Dear Old Dad :D

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