Saturday, January 30, 2010
To My Father on His Birthday.
My sister started a new tradition in our family where, on a family member’s birthday, we each tell that person why he or she is special. This felt strange on my tongue the first time we did this for my mom’s birthday this last November. We’re not a family who gratuitously compliment, our compliments are shy; they hide within jokes, or are implicit in gestures. So, in anticipation of this new tradition for my dad’s 67th birthday party on Sunday, I thought I would write what is difficult for me to say.
All my life I hear the same phrase: you’re just like your father. In the childhood years I go without combing my hair; during my middle-school years when eons before environmentalism is trendy, I carry a lunchbox to school because it is less wasteful; in everyone’s fear that I choose to move as close to Manhattan as I can for college; in my mother’s anger that I decide to travel even farther to the Peace Corps; and in my poor family’s frustration when I marry someone no one thinks is right for me. All these times and more, I hear, in the face of my fierce purposefulness, you’re just like your father.
Pragmatic New Englander my father very much is, and very much is not. He works hard; his accomplishments are as vast as the cords of wood that corral the property of my childhood home in New Hampshire: the farmhouse in Jaffrey that takes years to restore, the antique cars, the maple syrup, stained glass, and every sort of home improvement. His ventures, however, I’ve come to realize, are not always the systematic or calculated moves of a pragmatist like, say Hilary Clinton. In fact, some of his decisions, like moving to North Carolina, are instinctual, even whimsical. In all of my dad’s choices, there is a commonality: a Thoreau-like call for a life well-lived. Dad and Thoreau would have been friends for more reasons than that they are from the same state. Dad’s life is testimony to Thoreau’s words, “Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.” My dad does not leash himself to his lucrative computer programming job, nor to his place of birth, nor even to his homes that he painstakingly polishes to showcase beauty. Instead, my dad takes chances. Not all of them pan out--some rise to greatness while other shatter--but all of them are his legacy. His actions have taught me to value life, to create it, fight for it, and to pay stubborn attention to my visions.
My father walks a softer road in his love of family, and most importantly, his relationship with my mother which winds back as far as middle school. I know that many people say this, but in my father’s case it is true: he has never looked at another woman. When I was a kid, I watched women, married woman, fall all over themselves over my dad, and I watched his Ataturk-blue eyes seek refuge with my mother. My father has only ever had one best friend: Mom. To this day, he is uncomfortable when she is gone for too long. All three of his kids are solid committers. None of us have ever cheated on anyone, and all three have entered our relationships earnestly and with faith in our partners. That faith, that earnestness is a gift given to us by our parent’s marriage.
I have a little secret that should be shared on my dad’s 67th birthday—about time, right? I don’t mind when people tell me I’m acting like you. In truth, I’m proud that I’m just like you.
Happy birthday, Dad.