I inherited a lot from my dad. A tendency to get socially overstimulated, a need for a lot of time alone, a thick neck leading into brick for a head, a defensiveness of my time. I also inherited a tendency to communicate almost entirely anecdotally. This is probably a symptom of being a father or of being a coach, but every lesson I ever learned was first exercised situationally, reflected back through the specular lens of somebody else’s fuckup or triumph a decade or a century earlier. It was never enough to make a point or highlight a virtue or its corresponding vice — it had to be seen in action. The gazelle doesn’t have to outrun the fastest lion but the slowest gazelle, there’s no such thing as a half pregnant woman, any myriad of proto koan shit designed to con me into hard work, rigorous honesty or selflessness. My dad rarely showed emotion as kid, sitting on a perch of knowing wisdom and the presence of control. He never drank or smoked, mostly because, as i saw it any way, he was too much of a hard ass to ever allow anyone to see him outside his center. He made a habit of wearing shorts to games in late November at some point in the late 80s to make a point of solidarity with his players who had to endure the cold, and fell into the habit for the next 30 years. It never occurred to him to switch up and put on long pants in 20 degree weather. It never occurred to him to look for a new job, staying in one teaching and coaching job since 1986. He is hard headed, aloof, and inconsiderate,
It’s impossible to tell my father’s story or the story of my relationship to him without including the stories that i was told as a kid. His stories became as much of his body as his fingers or toes, an amalgamation of lessons loosely tied together and funneled towards an ineffable, essential “point.” My dad got his current, and only, adult job at age 25, teaching and coaching at the school I would later go to. That’s where a hulk of the fables started. They went 1–9 two years in a row. They were not talented. But they invested in the process and they got better. a lot of assistants left, a lot of people melted down, but the people who stayed didn’t learn how to win — they learned how to lose. They learned how to do things the hard way, valiantly, lovingly, because that was how they were supposed to. They learned to run up that hill to certain failure, because they were supposed to. He found of core people in the program that were invested, emotionally and existentially, in a commitment to beautiful loss and pyrrhic victory. And so that got passed down for decades, Bleeding into the community that I would later grow up in, an ethos of noble, valiant failure growing like moss across my entire life. My father is inseparable from happenings like this. He’s a man shaped by his position as a reluctant sainthood, lionized in his adult home ways that almost defy my understanding.
He has never been a particularly nice guy over those 30 years. He was so shitty to me as a player, and as hardworking or stubborn as he’s ever been, his nearest defining characteristic (apart from the versions of himself that live in his stories), is how inconsiderate he is. His negligence of holidays with my mom has become a joke, one he finds hilarious and feeds into. He’s missed the weddings of countless players who saw him as a father. He’s grown impatient with me in talking about the problems of my life so he could get back to talking ball. He drives me fucking nuts. He’s had a tendency to lose sight of his player’s humanity. For every day that i’ve looked up to him, I’ve had a day where i couldn’t stand him. On bad days, I’ve turned him into a totem for all that’s wrong with his chosen profession, or directed anger at him for not being better to mom.
But every vice has its corresponding virtue. He never gave my mom gifts, but he also never blamed her for anything that was outside of her control, and I’ve never seen them fight in my entire life. He might repel from group socialization, but he’s built a relationship with my mom based on separate, healthy lives joined to together by additive support and time together after their selves were tended to. He’s lost sight of the importance he’s played in people’s lives, but he has never once given a damn about what anybody thought of him ever, and has never strayed away from having difficult conversations with people who needed to have them. When my adopted brother, who was left homeless by a birth mother who abandoned him, was without a roof or anyone to support him, my dad pushed him harder. Pops demanded more from him than he thought he had, and in the process he found out he had it. When Ben had nothing, pops demanded that nothing. This was not particularly nice. It was the negligence of his humanity and the difficulty he was going through in a lot of ways. But he squeezed blood from a stone, and my brother survived long enough to build a life for himself.
Despite all my inheritance, my dad represents the opposite side of my piece of paper. It’s probably pretty similar to interact with both of us, but where pops is totally unbothered by a projection of his own kindness or own being nice to anyone, he has allowed them to find themselves, to wake up and find out what kind of person they are. I’m sure he hasn’t been conscious or intentional of any of this, not because he doesn’t care, but because that would over intellectualize his role in the process. He’s mean, he’s cold, he’s inconsiderate, but he’s one of the most selfless people i’ve ever encountered. I continuously intellectualize my role in people’s lives and attempt to be selfless, always thinking of how i’ll be perceived and wanting people to like me. Pops has done no such thing, bending his world however he wants and enriching the lives of those willing to keep up.
My dad has handed down a lot, but i’ve flipped most of the traits that live in him. I’m my father’s dialectic inversion. We approach the same ethos and values from the exact opposite direction, plummeting towards a shared understanding while wanting to kill each other most of the time. I took my father’s selflessness and made it intentional, often robbing myself of self-care and space because i was supposed to be selfless. My dad’s selflessness was driven by a humility brought about by a total absence of self-reflection, where my pyrrhic selflessness has grown from constant, nearly paralyzing, continuous self-reflection. A self-professed republican who pulled himself up out of rural poverty without a father of his own (though he hasn’t voted for one in at least 20 years), the values he taught me, of communalism and self-sacrifice, made me a Marxist. Reaching my twenties was hard, because I am to this day incapable of self-improvement or self-love outside of a “team” or someone to take care of, I internalized the logical following of his worldview, struggling to stunt for stunting’s sake and understand myself as a viable recipient of my love.
The unconscious, underlying reality of my dad’s life is politically and personally significant, and culling that out of his oddly zen existence into something that adapts to the singular pyre, and specular nature of my reality in relation to his, is one of the main battles of my life. From a Lacanian perspective, my dad’s life is largely unconcerned with both the signifier and the signified, a piece of paper with two sides that he didn’t read. The reciprocal nature of his relationship to these zones is crucial to my understanding of them and of Lacanian Marxism in general. He engages the realm of the imaginary only through romanticizing his own faults, a tool to create the distance between himself and the world that allows him to do what he does at the end of the day. Fostering signifiers of virtuousness has also eluded him, at least terms of his own actions, the role of the symbolic and the imaginary are important because that’s where his stories live. As Fredric Jameson said, speaking on the role of the narrative, the history’s realm of the real, the goal was “not to elaborate some achieved and lifelike simulacrum of its supposed object, but rather to ‘produce’ the latter’s ‘concept.’” signifier and signified were only relevant in terms of how they could be adapted to the pyre of the real. My dad dives straight into the ineffability without awareness or intent, with the aid of the signifier and the signified as tools of exploration more than legitimate towers of meaning. Just as his utilization of narrative and anecdote highlight how his values have fleshed out historically, as event and abstraction, the symbolic and imaginary are weapons for gesturing towards the real that are not altogether separate from it.
As a communist artist, the ability to adapt these ideas is not a simple process, although things have always appeared so simple for my dad. Our march upon the real is not a monolithic experience, but i’ve had to learn to find the real artistically as a synthesis of text and image, narrative and picture, internal and external dialogue. What I can learn from my father is how to use these things not as shortcuts to the real but as myriad objects of its organic happening. Just as i am, he is a world of contradiction, of mutually assertive relationship of front and back living in a personality. His obliviousness lives with his humility, his selfishness with his sacrifice, his violence with his love. The real, the truth of his being, is not either side of these coins in their totality. The real is achieved every day, in the conflicted zones of contestation in which we seek out or best and truest selves on a daily basis.
I remember having a conversation with him about coaching a couple years ago, about how two coaches with totally equal gifts and ability could arrive at totally different results and images of their realities because of how important creative vision is to the construction of team — a tempo-spatial arrangement of the disparate experiences, desires, narratives and realities of teenagers still trying to figure out the simplest things about themselves. We talked about taste, about values, about maintaining a vague understanding of whatever “it” is that makes us what we are. Another time, as a child, he told me that i would ultimately be judged by my treatment of people who had nothing to give me, my willingness to give when my self interest and self concept weren’t at stake. I’m 25 now. And as i attempt to mediate my reality and advance upon an understanding of the world that fuses the textual narratives and the material presentations of the images i patch together personally and artistically, the real that can be culled from my dad’s existence is, once again, built from the ethos of his anecdotes. I get to wake up every day and find out what kind of friend, what kind of artist, what kind of person I am. doing so cannot be achieved by displaying signifiers of selflessness or an image of what that would look like in the end. It is fought for, in these zones of contestation. Friendship, physicality, labor, politics, self-care, love.