This was a big weekend—Saturday was the Boston Gay Pride Parade and Sunday was Father’s Day. I celebrate both equally—cheering, thanking, and supporting my friends for the past 25 years and doing the same for my dad for about the same amount of time. While I understood gay culture and identified with the feeling of alienation from mainstream fairly quickly, it took me a lot longer to understand my dad. I knew he hated his job in a factory and working 55 hours a week to support a family of six. I just didn’t understand how that got translated into being impatient and angry to us kids until much later. The good thing was he made leaving for college easy, and once I was on my own, it was much easier to see him as a person, rather than a dad who yelled. A lot.
Today I feel lucky to still have him. At age 84, he’s still living life as fully as he can. He paints, thinks deeply about the mystery of life, and rails against the injustices of the world by being a frequent contributor to the newspaper. He’s had a banner year for his painting, which he started in earnest after retiring. He’s been in many juried shows, but this year he was in a three-person show in May and in July is having his first solo show. I’m enjoying his success, but that doesn’t mean I can come up with one of those tear-jerker lists of things people learned from their dad. I can’t undo those first 23 years. I definitely learned things, but chances are you won’t find them in a Hallmark card, paper or electronic:
- Fold your towel in threes so it fits on the towel rack. There were six of us and the racks were on the short side, so I guess that made sense, but what really burns me is that when I go to my parent’s house now, the towels are folded in two! I’ve tried to yell at him about it, but he just laughs. The discipline in that house definitely has gone downhill.
- Reading books is better than watching TV. If I were reading a book on a Saturday, my dad would let me be. However, watching the TV would be the quickest way to get assigned a chore—usually a nasty one like cleaning out the spider and dust infested crawl space. I still mostly prefer reading to watching TV. I also still dislike chores.
- “Get the show on the road.” While this could apply to many situations, mostly it was sternly called out if, god forbid, we kids were lingering after dinner and digesting. This was the signal to start cleaning up, and we ignored it at our peril. I could never understand how our dirty dishes were ever going to be Broadway worthy, but maybe Sondheim could look into it.
- You can use philosophy to stay out all night without getting in trouble. My dad gave me a great gift when I was a teen. We had a difficult relationship—he blamed us whether we kids deserved it or not, and I hated him for it. However, when I was a teen, he started learning about Eastern philosophy. He was always calm when he talked about it, so I started to listen. It made a lot more sense to me than my Catholic upbringing, and to this day has shaped how I view the world. However, then I still was a teen. When I stayed out all night after senior prom, I was able to distract his gathering storm of major yelling with a moving description of watching the sun come up on the beach, and how I had, in that brief sunrise moment, felt connected to the universe. He was visibly moved, and to tell the truth, so was I.
- Do not go gentle into this good night. My father appreciates every day he has and takes nothing for granted. He takes care of himself and exercises. As a person who prefers to sit around and read, (which he encouraged!) it’s taken me longer to really get behind this one. Being middle-aged and understanding that the end of my “night” is not as far away as it once was helps. But I know now I need to do whatever it takes to fold my towels in three, read, and get the show on the road for many years to come.
Happy Father’s Day, Pops.
Image: Self-portrait by my dad, John Deden.