Today is my father’s 55th birthday. So I asked him when I called him a few hours ago, “Does 55 feel any different from 54??” He asks me the same question every year — he’s got an odd sense of humor.
I lived with my mother and my father for the first two years of my life. I have no recollection of this period. After that I lived with my mother until I was six, at which point my father received full custody of my sister and me. My father, stepmother, sister and I tried to become a family, something which succeeded at times and failed at others. The addition of my brother a few years later lent some interesting dynamics to our somewhat artificial family — but I wouldn’t trade him for the world.
I don’t have a very clear recollection of what went on for the twelve years I was a full-time member of that household. I will tell you what I do remember, and some things which I conjecture.
My father wasn’t around much when I was younger. During the week, he’d get up much earlier than I would, drink his coffee, read the newspaper, and head off to work. He would come home almost at my bedtime and kiss me goodnight.
But I remember the little things — the way he removes his glasses to read the newspaper because he needed bifocals, or after he got bifocals, it was out of sheer habit. His coffee mug, the large travel mug with the antique trucks emblazoned on it that I got for him one Father’s Day. Skim milk and a few packets of Equal mixed with the coffee. The way he picks at his left eyebrow as he reads, or the way he leans his chin into the cup of his open hand, with his fingers covering his mouth. Two things I’ve picked up from him.
On the weekends Dad and I would go to the hardware store for another home improvement project. Or we’d explore the back roads of northern Illinois or Nebraska, figuring out that the numbered streets go one way in Omaha and the lettered streets cross them. Trying to figure out why there was 29th Place, 29th Street, and 29th Avenue all in a row — we lived on South 29th Avenue, the house on the hill where you could see to Iowa on clear days.
I used to sit at the entrance to his room — Dad always had his room. That’s why we had a four bedroom house in Nebraska even though we only needed three. Dad needed a room for his computer stuff, his amateur radio stuff, the things he’s acquired over the past fifty years.
Dad spends almost all his free time in his room. So to spend time with Dad, I would sit there at the entrance of his room, leaning against the door, listening to his phone conversations or watching him write emails to all the folks with silly questions for the Navy. He’d ask me for opinions on the buttons he’d create for the website, on the graphics he’d designed that the Admiral wasn’t too enthralled with, on which photos sent to him that he should include within the site.
I would just sit there… and be with Dad.
After a while, I’d get up and go about my business… I rarely said anything unless he asked me something directly. I didn’t need to.
Life with Dad wasn’t easy. He has a volatile temper that can turn violent. He can say the nastiest things when his anger is raging. He can be very difficult to get along with on a day-to-day basis.
Dad feels guilty about the way he raised me. He thinks he failed. He thinks he did a bad job.
But it worked for us.
I think he believes he failed me because of the choices I have made for my post-collegiate life. He is disappointed in me. He wants me to be something more.
I want him to understand that he didn’t fail. That he did a great job. That I love him. That I am very glad that he is my father, with all his faults and all his merits — each and every one of them. Because I am a part of him. Because he understands me. Because we are similar.
But most of the time he won’t listen.
He insists he has failed.
Daddy, I love you. And you have not failed.