I was maybe ten years old driving in the car with my dad. On the dashboard was a button that said “AC”. I asked him what it was. Looking concerned, confused and curious, he said he did not know. “Press it” he said. I did. And when I did I jumped because the car horn honked. He looked surprised, too, and even more worried. Tentatively, I reached my finger and pressed AC again. Honk. I pressed it three quick times. Honk. Honk. Honk. My dad asked me what was wrong. I asked him if it was supposed to do that. He said he didn’t know, but probably not, maybe the car was miswired. After a while, I pressed the AC button again, this time holding it down for half a minute. The whole time the car horn wailed. I grew more and more confused until my dad told me to look, motioning toward his hands. One hand was on the wheel, the other was discreetly braced against the car horn. He told me to press the air conditioning button one more time and when I did, he honked the horn.
Once in 4th grade there was to be a boat racing competition. Our assignment was to go home and build a small boat, which would then be put in a small pool of water with everybody else’s and be blown by a fan to the finish line. I enlisted my dad’s help. First we made a design. Then we went into his woodshop and cut all the pieces, sanded them and glued them together. After that we spray painted it gold. The final design had a rudder and a mast, to which we attached a sail made of linen. On the day of the race I set our boat in the water and it sunk. I said to the teacher that we needed the fan to be on for it to work. Cooperating, she turned on the fan but still our boat sank as soon as I took my hands off it. Didn’t even make it out of the gates. The winner ended up being this one girl whose boat was just a big chunk of styrofoam.
When I played little league baseball, a few seasons my dad was the coach. Most kids, I think, liked playing for him. For one, he played every kid nearly equally, something other coaches did not do (instead giving the best players the most time). He was also goofy; he told us to steal an inordinate amount of time- sometimes even before the pitcher threw the ball- just to screw with the other team’s heads. It was also fun because he’d stress that every player had something to do every play no matter what. If the ball was hit to right field, the center fielder had to run to back up the short stop and the left fielder had to back up the center fielder while simultaneously keeping an eye on third base in case something went wrong, etc. He never favored me because I was his son. In fact, I might have gotten the short end of the stick because I was his son. I don’t remember if that made me angry, then, but it makes me proud now.
I remember watching a football game on TV with my hockey team and everyone’s dads. Other dads were making misogynistic remarks about the cheerleaders, and I felt ashamed that my dad wasn’t, too. I thought he wasn’t masculine or something. Holy shit was I wrong.
The other day I was at my friends and he was complaining that his dryer was leaking gas, that he smelled it. They asked a girl we were with, because she was slender, to squeeze back there and take a look. She tried, but became claustrophobic, so quit. I said I’d try. They said I wouldn’t fit. I wedged myself in there between the dryer and the wall (it was one big unit, a washer and dryer taller than me) and slammed the dryer against the opposite wall hurling myself to the back. It’s the kind of maneuver that either works or ends terribly, reliant entirely on raw will power. Learned it from my dad (it worked)
My dad grew up on the south side of Milwaukee. As soon as he graduated highschool he was basically on his own. In a short time he found a wife, a career, and began a family. By the time he was my age now (24) he had a kid and soon another on the way. My experience seems a lot different. After high school, I had my parents pay for my education at a private university where I studied philosophy. Then I went on a long trip, ending with me moving back in with my parents. Now I am employed, practically self-sufficient, but rather than change diapers I take long strolls sipping tea, writing, and otherwise satisfy myself. I can’t imagine having two kids, now. But I can, on the condition that my current life- as I know it- ends.
Sometimes when I say a joke at work totally dead pan like ‘I didn’t know the Beatles were from England’ and stare at my coworkers in disbelief, I feel like my dad. When I break the act with laughter I feel like my dad. That’s good. Sometimes I don’t even think it’s me, but him. And it’s not even him, but his dad. Puts less pressure on you, cus you’re not you.
I’ve had several father-figures, whenever I entered a world my dad had never been. First it was hockey, then running, then philosophy. In each case I found men I thought superior to my own dad, because they were familiar with a world he was not. And each time these role models proved vacuous or worse. I’m learning late in the game that I’ve had a solid example before me my whole life. Especially as an example of humility and acceptance. I used to avoid these like they were herpes or something.