When I told my dad that I loved him as part of my last day on Earth post, I later learned from my mom that he was in a daze when he got off the phone. “Do you know what Greg said to me? He said he loved me.” He couldn’t believe it. That just shows you how often my family verbally expresses their feelings for each other.
It’s just something we never did. It’s probably why I find communicating my feelings now to be scary. And communicating them with my family even scarier.
It’s Father’s Day today and I already called him. We had small talk like we always do. My sister and I bought him a computer so he was pretty excited about that. He asked about Clara. “Tell her I said hi, if… if she knows about me.” Yes Dad, I assured him, she knows I have a father.
I decided I wanted to tell him what I thought of him as a father. It would be difficult to say everything to him over the phone so I sent him this email:
When I was just a kid, you were the best guy in the world to me. I thought you knew everything, could do anything. I thought you were Superman.
In elementary school, I started to notice you weren’t like my friend’s fathers. You didn’t laugh and joke around with us. You were quiet and didn’t say much when my friends were over. I started to think you weren’t very fun. You weren’t cool.
We never played sports together. So when I got to junior high, I was humiliated during gym class. I couldn’t shoot a basketball or throw a baseball. Whenever I missed a shot or struck out, I blamed you. And I started to resent you for it.
I was sensitive and compassionate as a teenager. Traits that don’t go over too well for guys in high school. I never felt like I coud joke around with the other guys. Or when I did, I faked it. I made jokes about girls and other kids but didn’t really want to. I blamed you for that too because you were the same exact way.
When I was in college, I got angry when I felt you weren’t being assertive and strong like men should. I thought you never stood up for yourself. And when I found myself acting the same, it made me even angrier. I overcompensated by acting out. I’d punch walls or throw furniture when I was mad, to show how assertive and strong I could be.
In my 20’s, I found out that you wanted to be a writer all your life but instead you worked at a job you hated just because it was stable and you could make more money. I had no respect for that. Why didn’t you follow your dreams? You were too scared, I decided. Too cowardly to take the risk. I had no respect for that.
I blamed you for making my life difficult. I blamed you for the man I had become. A man I didn’t like.
But then I started to realize some things.
When I was in elementary school, instead of playing sports, I read books. Books that you brought home to me when you got back from work at night, from the job you commuted to three hours a day to support your family. Books that fostered my imagination and ignited my fascination with storytelling. A big part of the reason I’m a writer today.
Because I was terrible at sports in junior high, I spent all day, every day in the summer trying to get better at them. I never did become great, but I was competent. I learned how to work for something by myself. To this day if there’s something I’m not good at it, I dive headfirst into it to become better.
That compassion and sensitivity I hated so much in high school is something I’m grateful for today. They are the things about me that I’m most proud of.
I realized that you are assertive and strong in a different way. You don’t have to pound your chest, huffing and puffing to make a point. You stay calm and use reason. It takes confidence to do that. I try to do the same.
I’m ashamed that I ever lost respect for you about working at a job you hated for so many years. Because now, I respect you more than you can imagine. For sacrificing yourself to give your family a good life. For sacrificing your dream so that me and my sister could live ours. But it wasn’t really a sacrifice to you was it? As long as we were happy, so were you.
Now, I don’t blame you for anything. I credit you. I credit you for making me the man I am today. A man who can be caring and thoughtful to people. A man who has quiet dignity. A man who is willing to sacrifice for the people he loves. A man I’m proud of being. A man I love. Like you.