Hi, I’m Your Dad
January 30, 2016
Today is my birthday, son. It’s the first one I’m having with you in our arms and that makes it extra special. I have too much to say, but I’ll start small :) Since I’ve started a series where you meet your family on their birthdays, I guess today is my turn. I’ll break form a little bit here since, well, these are my letters and you’re getting the back story almost every time I write.
Where do we begin. Who is your Dad? To answer that question, and to be as honest as possible, I think it best to tell you how I feel about being your Dad. Of course, to tell someone the truth is to tell them what you fear the most — so I’ll start with that.
I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about my greatest fears. I’ve come up with just two big things and a million tiny little ones. I’ve realized that both of these things actually stem from my relationship with my own dad, your grandpa — Pops, to me.. So, here we go….
Fear of Not Being There For You
I know that it’s impossible for me to be there for you forever, but it doesn’t make me long for it in ways I can’t describe. But deep down, it’s not the impossible that worries me, but the unlikely-but-possible. As they say, you’re not promised tomorrow.
The men in our family (my side at least), have not faired well when it comes to health. Your grandpa passed when he was 57. He had more than enough health issues, but they mostly started to manifest when he was around 40 — it’s a hard thing to live one-third of your life under the thumb of disease.
I can recount so many different times where Pops was sick. I remember the first time he got sick and went into the hospital ages ago — I must have been 13 at the time. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it, I cried. I went and laid on his side of the bed, knowing he was in the hospital. Fortunately, he got better and lasted.
I remember all the diabetes, insulin shots, heart pains and bypasses. None of it was easy — I can’t even imagine how it was for him. I remember all the scares when he vision was going a little bad and he worried he might go blind. I remember him just never being quite the same as he was, even though I was too young to remember him as I imagine he would have liked me to know him.
Most of all, I remember the day he left us. I remember the phone call we had the night before where I apologized for not getting out there to see him that night. I remember the last time I saw him — in his blue shorts, shirtless with his big belly hanging out drinking a cup of tea. I remember it all.
Every day, I live with the fear that around the next corner, my health will turn. I worry constantly that it’s going to come and it will come fast. I worry we won’t have the time to form the kinds of bonds that fathers and sons have. I worry even more that we won’t have the time to form the kind of bond that I want for us — which stand in stark contrast to what I had with my own dad.
Time isn’t something I can promise, no one can. I can only promise to cherish each and every moment we have together so you can look back at all the time we did have. I promise to lie to your sweet face if, and when, I know I don’t have more time, son. My time continues through you.
Fear of Not Being Enough
Bigger than the threat of time, though, is the risk of not being enough.
I’m not sure when this plan go write letters hatched, to be honest. It just started to.become apparent that there was so much stuff that I wanted to tell you but that I was unlikely to remember or to have the time. So I write as often as possible about the big, the small and everything in between.In these last couple of months, though, I realized that the letters were something more. In writing I’ve found a bit of solace and peace, means of coping with my greatest fear that you won’t truly know your dad and, even more difficult, that you won’t know how much I love you. Indeed, that is far bigger than not being here — it is the thing I can minimally control.Again, this goes back to me and my Pops. It would be really hard for me to say that we felt close. Most of my memories fade a little more every day and it’s just a small highlight reel left behind — and not just great moments.
I could sum up how I think he felt with one word: disappointed. You see, your grandpa really wanted me to be a doctor. While I was on that path, I honestly don’t remember ever feeling any kind of disappointment. I might even go so far as to argue he was a little more supportive. But, I eventually chose a different path and it was definitely different — we were different.
It wasn’t that he was mad at me or thought me a failure, at least I choose not to believe that, but that he didn’t know what else to do. For the first part of my life (and all the life I had known till that point), i dutifully adopted Pop’s dream as my dream. What did I know other than I wanted my dad to be happy and I didn’t have much other thoughts on the world, yet.
As time went on, though, and the realities of all that life entailed became more and more harsh, I knew that it wasn’t the life for me. At the same time, I had found something that challenged me in the ways I wanted to be challenged and fulfilled me much more significantly. This was a turning point.
To this day, probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell him I didn’t want to be a doctor. I remember that entire conversation. I remember wanting to run away instead of having to let him down — to tell him I was choosing to end his dream.
Pops and I weren’t really the same after that. I was no longer his boy, I had become a man. He was more prepared to relate and judge me on those terms — nothing unfair about that. What wasn’t as nice was that there wasn’t nearly enough outside of that — not for me anyway. To much of it was built on that other thing, and it was gone. We grew apart, didn’t talk much, and those few conversations were awkward at best, judgmental at worst.
Which brings me to my great fear. You see, as surprising as it may seem — I am my father’s son. I am more like him than you’ll ever know and I worry that what happened with him will happen with us. As much as I make my efforts to write here, to share here, it’s much harder for me to do that in person, heart to heart.
So I write, instead in case the demons get the better of me. I write to constantly remind myself what I want to do differently. I write to make sure that, even if I can’t muster the words, I know I’ve at least attempted to convey it to you — in my own way.
I need us to make our own history, to forge our own future. I need us to have the stories and tales that will permanently keep our spirits up and alive — well beyond these physical bodies. I need to not be my father’s son in every way, and instead yours.
There’s only one way to know if I’ve succeeded, and that is through you and the man you become some day. If when you look back on your life and you remember your Dad was there for you whenever you needed him and that you had the benefit of all I learned, even if you decided not to heed it, then I am lucky. But most importantly, if you look back and feel loved not because of what you do, but because of who you are — then I’m truly successful.
This birthday is dedicated to you, Solomon, for renewing my lease on life and showing me there are much higher mountains to climb. I won’t let you down, I promise.
p.s. As sad as I may sound about your Grandpa, please know it’s not anger or sadness, but regret that we didn’t do the work to make it right when there was time.