I recently saw this post on the Newscut Blog by Bob Collins. It got me to thinking. I have seen pictures of my dad when he was younger than I am now. In fact, I once made a lamp for him and my mother made from slides from when they were first married. It didn’t occur to me then, but now I am a couple years older than he was in those old photos. I’ve heard stories from when he was younger than me. The only problem with this is, the things people tell stories about are the exceptional things: great accomplishments, life-altering journeys, epiphanies, and the like. I don’t feel my personal story-worthy life events even compare with what I knew about my dad when I turned 19 and moved into my first apartment. He was an Infallible Elder to me then. All of the wonderful, relatable things I know about him, the things that have made us peers, I’ve learned since then. I’ve learned that we’re a lot more alike than I ever assumed growing up. I remember going to a Twins game with him and my friend Jill at the HHH Metrodome and having Jill tell me afterwards how weird it was to see the two of us sitting together, both leaning forward, arms on our knees, fingers interlocked, our weight on the balls of our feet, in the exact same pose as one another without intending it. It was made more noticeable by the fact that white guys with beards tend to look alike, but at age 23 I was already becoming my father.
You think by the time you move out of your parents’ house that you know everything there is to know about these people who raised you. I know I did. After all, I’d spent every day of my life either with them or in relation to them. What I hadn’t considered was that they hadn’t spent their every day in relation to me. They had a whole life together before I came along. A life when they made some of the same choices and mistakes that I have since made, because there are certain lessons that cannot be taught, but must be learned.
When I was 20 I moved to California, and my dad helped me get there. When you spend two and a half days in a truck cab with someone, sleeping in rest stops with all your possessions just behind the back wall, there’s no way to not learn a few new things about them. On that trip I learned about Dad's college weekend road trips, but also that he had a lot more wisdom to impart than just how to use a band saw (although this has proven helpful too). That trip is also why, when Mom tells me that Dad is driving solo from my sister’s house in Seattle to my parents’ home in Tucson, I don’t worry. I still want my mother to check in when I know she’s on the road. Dad I know I don’t need to worry about on crazy feats of endurance travel. I’ve seen the man do it.
After I bought a house back in Mpls, Dad came north to help me paint it. I recall coming home one day to find he had climbed up the ladder to the porch roof with the six-foot A-frame ladder over his shoulder. He had then propped the A-frame against the side of the house on the pitched roof to hang onto my louvered attic vent with one hand and use the other hand to paint the peak of the gable of my house (I assume he did this while I was at work because he knew I’d talk him out of it if I were home). That is something I would never do. Not for anyone. I don’t necessarily have a fear of heights, I just don’t trust my own sense of balance that much. If he ever asked, though, I’d do it for Dad. Because I know he’d do the same for me, and has. I won’t go into specifics, because I don’t want to give him ideas, but there are countless things that I’d never dream of doing ordinarily that I wouldn’t hesitate to do for my father. When someone has your back like that, you have to reciprocate. The man taught me how to be me, for god’s sake. You can’t ever hope to repay that – all you can do is pay it forward. Thanks, Dad. I love you. Happy Father’s Day.