It is two days past Father's Day. This is late. Last Saturday I drove from Herrin, Illinois to Clarksville, Tennessee to get my son for the week I have him over the Summer. Then I drove from Clarksville, Tennessee to Belleville, Illinois went to a family birthday party, and then to an anniversary party for people who are like family to me. Then Sunday there was breakfast with Mom and Dad, we all headed to my older brother's for barbecue and swimming, and then back to Mom and Dad's to watch wrestling with my other brother. Basically, I ran myself ragged spending time with my son and my family and didn't have the time or energy to write anything. Dad will understand. It's what he taught me to do.
The other reason this praise of my father is late is because it has been more difficult to write than I thought it would. How do you describe a man who has been everything you've needed for thirty-three years? How do you express gratefulness sufficiently for the ballgames, the camping trips, the talks, the beer, the coffee, the lessons, the wit, the stories, the time, and the quality of the time? These aren't rhetorical questions, Someone tell me how.
Dad is a Vietnam veteran. It's an experience he says he wouldn't trade for anything but that he would never do again. He did a variety of physical labor for half his life, doing whatever needed to be done to pay the bills. My earliest memories of him are days when he would work very long hours, come home and wake us boys up to say hello and goodnight, and then be gone again before we woke up in the morning. Luckily for all of us those days didn't last long. For the last half of his working life Dad was employed by the VFW as a Service Officer helping veterans get their benefits from the VA. It was a very rewarding job for him.
Here's the thing, though, that only tells you a little bit about Dad. He was proud of the work he did, deservedly so, but he's never been the kind of man that defined himself by his work. When I would overhear him talking to friends or family he was usually bragging about his boys. He defined himself as a father. You would think this might cause problems between him and Mom but it didn't because she defined herself as a mother. That's what I learned good parents do.
Dad has never been just Dad to me though. He's been a friend, an example, and a confidant. He's been a teacher, a coach, and a philosopher. He tries to pretend to be the old wise man of deer camp and every now and then he actually is. He's a storyteller, a barbecuer though I have now surpassed him, and a wisecracker though I have now surpassed him. He isn't just Dad, he's DAD.
This is going to be shorter than I thought and less poignant and less original. I feel like I fail with most things I write about but I know I'll never be able to capture Dad with mere words. I had a bunch of stories in mind that I wanted to tell about him but I find that I'm selfish. Those moments are mine. My brothers have their own and we have many together. A lot of people know and like my dad, and a lot of people call him Dad, but there's only three of us that can claim him as our dad and I want to keep that feeling as our own private treasure for a little while longer.
There's an easy way, though, that I can honor and compliment Dad here. Remember my busy weekend, I talked about? That's just a little bit of what I do, and try to do, for my son. I play video games, watch wrestling, and read with him. I drag my sorry butt to work just because of him. I'm teaching him how to hunt and shoot and rock climb. I try to play the old wise man with him and every now and then I actually am. When the divorce came there was no way I was letting go of him but when the time comes and he's grown I'll let him go with a handshake and some good advice. Even then, though, I'll still be there when he needs me. Why am I like this? He's my son, of course, and I love him but people aren't born knowing how to be good parents and they don't suddenly figure it out when the stork arrives. They learn from their parents and that's the best compliment I can think of to give Dad for Father's Day. I am the dad I am because Dad is, and has been, the dad he's been. I am my father's son.