In the past eight years, I have thought about my Dad many days. We didn't have a typical father-son relationship. I suppose no one does. What is a normal relationship? And yet our relationship seemed closer than the one my older brothers had with him. At least, I think it was. (As close as Dad might ever get.) Yet we didn't agree on much. I am still the black sheep.
My brothers are practical and responsible and industrious. They are what he expected. Me not so much. I once thought I was his opposite but I'm not, and yet I am. Confusing, I know, but I'm trying to explain. I saw the side of my Dad other people rarely ever saw simply because I was always seeking to know the real him. I saw the cracks and I pried them open. I never bought his facade and I challenged his bullshit. I asked personal questions. I rattled him. I got under his skin. I very rarely ever intentionally disrespected him and I surely did not want to purposely disappoint him but I didn't avoid anything out of politeness either.
And I think I became the side of himself he hid, the side I pried open, the side I was so keenly interested in: the man who loved movies and stories and beauty and humour, the curious man, the man who dreamed of flying, the man who wanted to explore the world, the candid man, the emotional man, the spiritual man, the foolish, silly man who didn't act his age. Sometimes I'm positive I became the man he might have become if his mother hadn't become frail and absent and bed-ridden for almost two decades and his father had not become an alcoholic. In other words, the man he might have become if he had actually had a childhood.
Is that what we do with parents? Mine them for the qualities we want to inherit and disdainfully discard the rest? And then wind up with what we chose and their worst qualities too? I seek to make you understand him and yet I didn't really understand him myself.
- He loved to talk and exaggerate and spin a good yarn yet he always avoided the truth of the matter.
- He was not demonstrative or affectionate yet he never once hit or spanked us.
- He wheezed when he laughed and he laughed a lot yet he had a grinchy demeanor.
- He swore all the time yet he never once said fuck.
- He believed in work, it was his religion yet he hated churches.
- He was a farmer, practical and rooted in harsh reality yet he was a dreamer, always seeking spring instead of admitting fall frost. (He made me a dreamer too.)
- He wanted to fly a plane someday. He even built a runway. (Tell me that's not a dreamer.) It never happened yet he made sure to arrange my first plane trip, something I'll never forget.
- He loved to travel yet he did not believe in recreational or holiday time.
- He made toys out of iron to give his grandchildren yet he claimed he was so busy he had to work 18 hours a day.
- He said that to raise happy kids you should just give them everything they want yet he had nearly nothing growing up.
- He always told me land was the most important thing and that someday some of his beloved property would be mine but this never happened; instead he paid for my education even though he detested universities.
- He always gave rides to hitch-hikers, he was quick to share gum, candies, money in his wallet, he frequently forgave long overdue bills, yet he didn't believe in charity.
- He would always sit on his knees at the kitchen table and there would be a big ring of salt and pepper around his plate whenever I cleared away his dishes yet he never said please or thank you.
- He loved the outdoors and wildlife and would bring home wounded animals: rabbits, an owl, a bear cub (I kid you not), even a raven yet he loved his bulldozer and thought nothing of pushing down trees and busting through beaver dams and thought climate change was a comedy routine.
- He was overtly political and he told me who I should vote for; I rarely voted for his candidate yet I could never fathom not voting (and now refuse to tell my own children for whom I vote).
- He told me once after we finished installing a door: "There, now we can quit arguing." Confused, I replied, "I didn't know we were."
- He often told his friends I was smart and they would tell me about these conversations later yet of course, I most strongly remember the one time he directly told me I was stupid.
- He always had to be in charge or first (so exasperating) yet he rarely had to tell us twice and never had to raise his voice.
- He loved to remind me that his mother was an artist. He loved country music, dances, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and a good movie bar-fight and he loved it when a sassy woman punched a man in the movies and he loved "The Flintstones" and restoring old vehicles and welding and building toys yet he thought the arts were a waste of time and money.
- He held not-so-private grudges yet no one was ever turned away from our door.