My dad expects the best from his kids, so when I brought home my first ever C in 6th grade, I was plenty nervous. But he just glanced at my report card and said, “I guess science class was pretty boring, huh?” That’s the day I learned he never doubted for an instant that I could succeed at whatever I put my mind to… as long as I really wanted it.
Dad never cushioned us from the consequences of our choices. He said, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” — usually in reference to things like not telling him we needed poster board for a science project till the night before it was due. Through this, we learned young to weigh pros and cons, make the best of whatever situation we found ourselves in, and take responsibility for ourselves and our own actions.
If Dad told us we could get a milkshake to share, and we argued over what flavor to order, he’d announce “Well, I guess no one’s getting a milkshake” and drive right back home. We developed appreciation for the bigger picture instead of focusing on the false crisis of minutiae.
Dad’s arid sense of humor is not for the faint of heart. His stern presence and deadpan delivery has intimidated many friends, and petrified the majority of potential boyfriends. Only a few of them understand (as I do) that my dad is awesome and hilarious. They’re the ones that lasted.
Every spring, my dad helped me fix up my bike, and weekends were Dad’s house project days. The smell of sawdust or WD-40 always makes me think of my dad.
I learned my love of reading from my dad. I stole and devoured his copies of Lord of the Rings when I was still in grade school. He introduced me to Orson Scott Card and Michael Crichton, loaning me a kids’ dinosaur picture book to read along with his copy of Jurassic Park. “I bought it so I’d know which dinosaurs were which,” he said, not embarrassed in the least.
Dad got me hooked on Star Trek and Star Wars and took me to every sci-fi movie that came to town. He introduced us to live theatre, had us listen to the musical scores before taking us to shows so we’d get more out of them. During performances, he sings along loudly enough that we have to shush him. Repeatedly.
Although he denies it, my dad knows everything about everything. When my sister was in theatre, he jumped up from the dinner table, saying “I think I have some gels around from when I helped with the show lighting at college.” When I took piano lessons, he asked, “Did I ever show you the lullaby I composed?” When my brother got interested in photography, he said, “Have I ever shown you my old Brownie?” I have never asked my dad one question he did not know the answer to.
When I was sick and miserable my second year away at college, I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew dropping out would hugely disappoint my parents, but it was pretty much killing me to stay. I worried they’d lecture me— especially Dad, with his relentless German practicality. I finally got up the nerve to call, deciding Mom would be the more understanding of the two. When Dad answered instead, I started talking nervously, tried to explain… but he didn’t care. He just cut me off and said, “You just need to come home. Do you want me to come get you?” It was a 3 hour drive, and already well past bedtime.
A few years later, I found myself pregnant, unmarried and far from home at 22. I was too ashamed to tell my dad; I made my mom tell him. I thought my dad would feel— as I felt myself—disappointed in the loss of all my untapped potential. My dad called me later to say “Honey, I am so proud of you.” Seemed like such an odd word choice at the time, but now that I’m older, I get that he understood what I didn’t yet know yet myself (and what no one else would say aloud): that I’d chosen a hard path. I felt like an idiot for getting myself into that mess in the first place, felt like having a kid right then was the stupidest decision I’d made yet; felt equally sure that it was the right decision as well. My dad’s reassurance reminded me that I am defined as much by my reactions as my actions. We can’t control our past; we can only decide how to move forward. In becoming a mom to Miss G, I chose my future with full awareness, determined to make the best of whatever came next— lessons taught to me by my dad.
After I had Miss G, I felt a lot of guilt that I couldn’t parent like my mom: home full-time, making mac & cheese from scratch, sewing cute little outfits. Then one day I realized, I’m a parent like my dad: a provider, a disciplinarian, a helper-with-homework. And I felt pretty darn proud of myself.
Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad. And thanks. <3
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