Father’s Day Thoughts
Warning: This post is probably as personal and serious as I’m likely to get on here. It won’t be very funny. It will, however, be genuine. You been warned.
Father’s Day is coming up. For many people, it’s a day to give their father a suitably crappy gift and give the old man a hug. I see a lot of ads and sales and heart-warming hey-ain’t-Dad-great stories and I think that’s pretty cool. For a lot of other people, Father’s Day means not much at all. There’s a load of deadbeat dads, kids who don’t have their fathers in their lives, dads who abandoned their kids and whatnot. For some, Father’s Day is a reminder of someone who abused and terrified them. Not such a great place to be.
My own father, as family legend has it, chose my name. He named me after his two favorite people: himself and Joe Namath. I find that tale entirely appropriate and therefore believe it with all my heart. He loved booze (like me!) and wearing awful polyester suits – it was the Seventies after all – and James Taylor. My mother once gleefully jumped up and down on top of his favorite James Taylor record, smashing it to bits. I’m sure he deserved it. Because my father, the man for whom I named, was a horrible person. He used to beat the shit out of my mother. At some point, he was threatened enough by my mother’s family or with the police or something to stop actually hitting her, so he would just yell and spit on her instead. He was a cruel and vicious little shit of a man. He mentally and emotionally abused my brothers and me on a fairly consistent basis. My brothers – especially the oldest – got it a lot worse than me. I was the youngest and therefore the best able to figure out the currents of family emotions and could discern out how best to navigate the dark and troubled waters. I went to bed every night until I was seven years old telling my mother that I loved her less than my father, knowing that it would make him happy. It did.
So I was the favored son of a monstrous human being. I would happily sell out my brothers or mother to stay on his good side. It didn’t always work, but the majority of the time it did. Of course, I even used that to manipulate our other caregivers, like my maternal grandmother who would immediately and instantly blame and punish my middle brother for anything I ever did wrong. I could just cry for no reason and he’d get swatted with a wooden kitchen spoon. I hope I didn’t abuse that power too much, but I know I did from time to time. Little wonder why he ended up chasing me around the house one day with a kitchen knife. I’ve carried a lot of guilt around over the years over it. I’m better now, because I understand that it wasn’t completely my fault.
My father controlled our lives. My blog of terrible advice for parenting from yesterday is, as rightfully pointed out by my oldest brother, a pretty close description of how we were actually raised, minus any mention of “making sure your kids know you love them”. We were incredibly well-behaved children in public, because we were completely and utterly terrified of what our insane father might do to us. I remember watching him with my oldest brother in the garage. I don’t remember what egregious offense my then-eleven- or twelve- or thirteen-year-old brother committed – forgot to take out the garbage? Failed to prevent one of his younger brothers from doing something stupid? – but there they were, standing by a garbage can, with my brother’s stack of record albums. One by one, my father would ask my brother if he liked that particular record. My brother, whose main passion in life was and is music, would answer in the affirmative. My father would then emphatically hurl that record into the trash and move onto the next. That’s the kind of guy he was. Another time, my oldest brother had just gotten permission to play football – extracurricular activities that did not involve being a Jehovah’s Witness just didn’t happen much – and was uber-excited, since football was and is also a big part of our lives. He was playing baseball in the front yard with friends. He was batting. I, being a young dumbass, walked behind him as he swung and ended up with a nifty scar and lump on my forehead that is still visible to this day. My brother tried to get me to stop crying, knowing it would end up bad, but no luck. Any dreams he had of playing football were gone, just like that.
There’s more stories, of course, most of them way worse, but that’s enough. He was the kind of guy that everyone who didn’t actually know him well thought was a great guy, charming, funny, sweet, a great father figure, the whole nine. He was a tremendously awful human being. I’ve said something often enough over the years, and I believe it to be true, that the greatest thing my father ever did for me, my mother, and my brothers, was shoot himself when I was seven years old. For all the talk about how selfish suicide can be, it’s probably the least selfish thing the man ever did for us. Good riddance.
So Father’s Day inevitably makes me think of the man I’m named after, but not for too long because he doesn’t really deserve it all that much. Instead, I tend to think about the people who are NOT my father, those people who became my father figures, the men who became my role models and the people I looked up to and wanted to emulate and learned what it was to be a man. It’s those people I think of and cherish, even if it’s only inside my head and heart and doesn’t come with a card. I think a lot of us, those whose fathers let them down or scarred them or abused them or generally acted in every way as the opposite of a caregiver, do the same thing. Maybe it’s a beloved grandfather who picked up the pieces and became a rock and a confidant and a teacher. Maybe it’s an uncle or family friend or someone else. I tend to believe that when Father’s Day rolls around, a lot of us at the very least think about the people who filled that void.
For me, I think first and foremost about my oldest brother. I’ve looked up to him for as long as I can remember. His approval or smile or laugh was the biggest reward I could hope for as a kid, and even now it brings me a tremendous amount of happiness to know I can make him laugh. I think it’s because laughter wasn’t exactly in common supply around the house when we were young. It makes him shake his head every time I tell him that he has always been a role model for me, because he’s not exactly a, shall we say, typical American man’s man. Whatever. My hippy Deadhead brother with the anger management issues is the guy I’ve always looked up to. So Happy Father’s Day, bro. I can’t thank you enough for helping me be the man I am today.
Most of my other father figures never existed, not in a real world sense. My stepfather was a piece of shit. My mother’s family was full of smug lying asses who didn’t give a flying fuck about us, or who abandoned us when my mother decided that being a Jehovah’s Witness was a really shitty way to go through life (thanks, Uncle Ed!). I learned the way a man should be through – shudder – TV, movies, and books. No wonder I’m such a terrible person. James Bond. Richard Dawson (may you rest not in peace but in full hell-raising mode, big drink in your hand and a cigar). Aragorn. Joe Theismann. Conan the Barbarian. Captain America. These were the men I wanted to be.
My god, it’s a wonder I can function at all.
So, yeah, my choices weren’t the kind of people who taught me how to use power tools or fix a car or hunt or fish or build things with wood. I had to learn all of that on my own. Some I’ve learned, some I haven’t. But I like to think that I did learn some good things from those men, real or not. I’m happy with who I am. I have a wife that loves me dearly. I have friends that I would do anything for. I’m lucky in every way. So I say Happy Father’s Day to Thor and Cap and Killian (who loves you and who do you LOVE?!) and Strider and Bilbo and Joey Sunshine and Mister Bond and the Professor on Gilligan’s Island and Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers and Stan Lee and my brothers and every single male I’ve encountered who helped me not be an abusive bitter little fuckstick of a human being, like my best friend Jimmy (he’ll always be Jimmy to me, and I’ll always be A.J. to him. The way it should be.). You guys did an awesome job, and I love you all.
So hey, if the person who provided half of your genetic material wasn’t a true father to you, I urge you to find one of those people who stepped in and helped you become a better person and tell them, from the bottom of your heart, that you couldn’t have done it without them. They don’t have to be male, or real for that matter. Say it in your head if that’s all you can do.
Oh, and one last thing: Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers out there that love your kids, take care of them, raise them as best you can, and make their lives better. You deserve it. Just as long as you keep them away from me when they’re young.
Posted on June 15, 2012, in Self Reflection and tagged Family, Happiness. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.
There’s not much I can say here, Alan. That took guts. Not just to post that, but to have lived through that, to have survived through that. My Dad was an ornery cuss who I was afraid of at times, but it was nothing like what you had to go through.
You’re a badass. You clearly make Lisa very happy. You make me and a lot of other people laugh. We’ve never met in person, and yet I’ve felt like a kinship with you right from the start.
I’m glad you have others in your life worthy of living up to Father’s Day thanks. I raise a glass to all of them, and to you, bro.
Thanks, man. I was trying to avoid making it seem “woe is me” type shit, since we all go through tragedy, and so many people had it a lot worse than me.
And I raise my glass to you, my friend, who is an actual father and tremendous person, which is a damn fine combination. Happy Father’s Day to you, too.
Thank you for your post. It made me think. My dad was non of the things you described as yours. How he kept his sanity while raising six kids is a wonder. Since I have an eight year old daughter, I will keep her away from you, though kids can be a wonderful addition to your life, and allow you to be goofy in ways not generally accepted in polite society. As for your wife, I hope she is real, and is a who and not a that, though this line: “I have a wife that loves me dearly.” did make me wonder, particularly since you had been writing about imaginary characters. Happy Father’s Day.
Thank you for your comment and thoughts. I am very happy to report that my wife is, indeed, an actual living breathing human being that I am lucky to have in my life, and not a collection of old shoe boxes that I meticulously taped together and sit next to on the couch.
And Happy Father’s Day to you as well!
I mirror Steven’s thoughts. You’ve got balls of steel, mister, and you’re a forged of strong stuff to have come through that and still have the humor and sanity you do now.
I’m with you on honoring all worthly Fatherly role models on Father’s Day. My dad had his failings, it’s not uncommon, but I have man who stepped up when I was 17 and kept me from becoming a total fuck-up. I remind him of it regularly, and it makes him cry. It’s awesomesauce. Just saying, you don’t always have to wait for a calendar date. Yo.
Thanks for being real. It’s what’s so awesome about you. Clearly your alternate male role models lived up to the task. 🙂
The humor is there. The sanity…eh, let’s call it questionable. And my fictional role models did leave the unfortunate side effect of my enjoyment of wearing red white and blue spandex outfits so lead others in singing The Star-Spangled Banner.
And you’re right. The calendar shouldn’t dictate it at all.
Awww, I want to be a collection of old shoe boxes that you meticulously taped together and sit next to on the couch! That sounds cool! On a more serious note… I love being your wife and I love you baby. You are right, I love you more than I can express in words. ❤
See! She’s a real person and stuff!
Hehehe. I love you so much baby. I’m so incredibly lucky to have you in my life. =)
It was two knives as I recall. I grabbed one and then you grabbed one, I grabbed another one. You wouldn’t let me read the Truth book to you. Funny how people end up in juvie for stuff like that nowadays. Grandmom must have had a great sense of humor to put up with us.
The greatest gift dad gave us was a shining example of what not to do. Sometimes that’s all you need.
That being said, it has been an honor to be the father of Danielle for 18 years now. Hopefully I have a while to wait for Grandfather’s day. They truly do not have a manual for this job, it is very much trial and error.
The best fatherly advice I can give, don’t waste your potential and don’t wait to fulfill your dreams. Do it while you have the energy.
Hahahaha you’re right! I’m lucky you didn’t nail me to the wall with them. I would’ve deserved it.
And you’re right. He did a great job of showing us how not to be. Happy Father’s Day to you, bro.
Dude! How you survived that to become a person I admire is incredible. And apart from a few rants and occasionally standing on the desk and screaming, I don’t think you’re batshit crazy at all 😉
Ha! Thanks for the vote of confidence!
Dude, just read your fathers day post. I fight a battle everyday to try to be a good father to my boys, its honestly the hardest thing I have ever done. However I will say it is also one of the most rewarding. Everytime I have to chastise my children I worry that they’ll think I don’t love them.
I always look at my grandfathers as shinning examples of who I want to be, how they both loved to laugh, how they would do anything for you. I miss them everyday and hope I will grow to be just like them.
I firmly believe that we become the people we want to be, so I think you’re going to be a great father and grandfather.