Thank You, Dad

You are what you do.

You will never find a more American perception than that.  Oh, there are a million unspoken assumptions and perceptions that we Americans share, but that specific one…well…  There are none that can come anywhere near the profound part it plays in our national psyche and way of life.

I’ve suffered from the disease that saying represents for a large part of my life.  Hell, even after my “escape” — even after giving up success and a (very good) steady paycheck for a life more in line with my soul, even after running away to watch the wolves and spoon with amorous grizzlies — I still have the vestiges of that saying written somewhere in the small, dark, oft-ignored Gen-X corner of my mind that the rest of me loves to mock and insult.

Now, why would I mention something like this?  For one simple reason: that belief, in my younger years, caused me to make a shit-ton of mistakes.  Okay, so not as many mistakes as beer caused, but still, it led me astray…a lot.

If you asked younger-me who I wanted to be, I would inevitably answer with someone holding a job/career that I considered “cool.”  I would inevitably look to someone I didn’t know, in circumstances I didn’t understand, because that person ticked a few boxes on my internal list of personal preferences.

And, look, I’m not talking about just 12-year-old me.  Nosirreebob, I’m talking about 20’s me.  I may even be hinting at 30’s me, even if 30’s me was a useless ass-wagon who I prefer to ignore.  No, 30’s me is that cousin at the family reunion who gets invited because, well, you kinda have to acknowledge his existence…

Ahem.

If you asked me today who I wanted to be, I would have a very, very different answer from younger-me.

“So, who do you want to be?”

I want to be my dad.

Back in the day, when I couldn’t disassociate person from job, I wouldn’t have given that answer.  And that shames me.  It shames me more than I can really describe, because it is so blind and idiotic, and so full of narcissistic angst and juvenile naivety.

Older-me, however…

Older-me looks at everything I learned from my dad…

Older-me looks at the man my dad is…

Older-me — current-me — looks and feels and thinks about my dad, and I feel nothing but awe and the utmost respect for a man so committed and dedicated to his family, his community, and his God.

That I no longer share my father’s faith is, I know, a source of worry and concern for him.  It shouldn’t be.  The former Christian in me understands that the people of intolerance and rage and hate so visible today are not the true face of God.  No, the face of the God of Peter and Augustine and the New Testament is the face of those of quiet honesty and strong faith.  Those like my father.

In spite of how inadequate I often feel in my perpetually unfulfilled wanderlust, I have seen and done more than the vast majority can claim.  Years and years ago, a friend of mine had pseudo-business cards made for everyone in our small social group.  The job title on mine was “Knows Shit.”  Now, the double-edged sword of that joke was pretty intentional, but it really is true: I know shit.  I know a lot of shit about a lot of shit, which has taught me the very real truth that, in the end, in the grand scheme of things, I actually know jackshit.  There is always more to learn, and more to know.  And for that, I owe my dad.  For the curiosity, and the urge to always explore and learn.  To learn not just what I want to learn, but also the unexpected knowledge the world offers to those willing to listen.

Unlike my dad, I will never be the guy who can ride in an elevator with someone and be best-friends two floors later.  Instead, what I am is the guy who will sit and have a beer or four with anyone — astrophysicist, plumber, chef, lawyer, and anything in between — and learn whatever I can about their life and career.

That curiosity I learned unknowingly at my father’s knee.  It is why I always want more. I want more not in the conventional, material sense, but in the intellectual, spiritual sense.  I want to know more about the places and people I encounter in my endless wanderings; I want to know more about the universe itself; I want to more about the things I cannot see, as much as I do about the things I can.  That need — that irresistible drive — for more is why I will always value the things I learned so unconsciously as a boy.

It is that drive, by the way, that makes me the writer I am.  The self-confidence, and the perverse satisfaction, that comes from never being able to satisfy my own curiosity is a big part of what drives the thoughts and images behind the words I write.  Just as the strength and faith I have watched and admired all my life — and struggled to learn for myself — are a big part of what gets me though those times when the black dog howls and the darkest of thoughts call to me in the night.

So, thank you, Dad.  I didn’t know enough when I was young to put it into words, but I will now: you are my hero.

That I walk a path so very different from what we all expected and pictured when I was a boy does not change just how much I owe to you.  Quite simply, I owe you everything that matters.  I owe not what I am — which, fail or win, I own — but rather, I owe you who I am.

Contrary to the idiotic belief/saying with which I started this post, it is only the who that matters anyway.

p.s.

Because I got such a late start today, I had to resort to writing in a — *GASP* — chain restaurant!  Worse than that, I’ve been forced to drink mainline, mass-produced, evil-brewer beer!  I’ve gone to the darkside for this post!!  Noooooooo!!!!!

{Musical Note — is it about my dad, or dads in general? No. But the thoughts, and the sentiment, behind the song…those are pure-dad}

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