Last week I wrote about my grandmother and today I want to write about my father.
Growing up my father was a bit of a mystery to me. He worked two jobs so he wasn’t home that much during the week, and when he wasn’t teaching apprentice electricians at the JATC he was preparing notes for the next night or grading papers or whatever stuff he did for his teaching. On weekends he would spend time with us, when we were playing sports there were games or awards ceremonies or trips to the park but, despite that, I didn’t grow up thinking I knew my father. My dad had a temper that, when I was a kid, was a bit unpredictable. I will stress that my father never hit us out of anger, nor was he abusive in an emotional sense, but his temper was something that could get out of control quickly and he’d yell and when my father yelled he was quite scary to a kid. I have a touch of my father’s temper in that we both get upset about something and then simmer, and my anger used to have that same flash-point that turned it into rage, but, having grown up with someone like that, I’ve spent a long, long time getting my temper under control.
Long story short, I loved my dad but I was also a little afraid of him too (I’m pretty sure he’s the reason why I can’t really handle fights when there’s shouting involved).
However, I was lucky enough to have a revelation about my father that put a lot of my past into perspective in a great, truly fortunate way.
At some point in my early teen years my father thought he’d paid off our mortgage. If I understand it correctly (and I fully admit that I’m not all that clear on the details), he’d taken out a loan through a guy who handled mortgages for people and, according to my dad’s accounting, he’d paid off the mortgage. Only he hadn’t. The guy, whom my father would still like to light on fire twenty years later, had been robbing Peter to pay Paul, helping himself to some of the mortgage payments he’d received and using other people’s payments to cover the ones due. The problem with such a situation is that once you start doing that you can never really catch up, you just get further and further behind. My father found out about it when the bank, I think, called him up and asked him why he was tens of thousands behind on his mortgage. This was after a year of not paying anything on the house.
My father became apocalyptic. At the best of times during this period he was a ball of tightly controlled fury, wandering around our house fuming to himself, and my memory was spending several months tip-toeing around him to not set him off. He and my mother fought a lot and this one of the three events of their marriage, at least that I know about, that would cause them to almost divorce; I’m sure only their stubbornness, and neither one of them wanting to be the one to actually divorce the other, is why they made it through (well, that and, you know, love).
I’m not certain how the conversation came about but I know we were driving home from my high school’s swim practice. We were in his work van and my dad, as usual, was simmering. The tension in the cab of the van was thick and I can’t remember what was said but, at some point, I told him the only thing I thought he was concerned about was money.
“Money?” he asked, a little in (angry) shock. “Matthew, I don’t care about money. I can make more money, it’ll just take time and a lot of hard work. What I’m angry about is time, which is what that money represents. Every dollar that I earn is time spent away from you, your mother, brother and sister. I worked hard and didn’t see you kids growing up because I wanted to have the mortgage paid off early so that I could spend a little bit of your childhood with you without having to worry about the house. That’s why I’m angry, Matthew, not because he stole my money, but because I feel like he stole your childhood from me and he stole what little bit I was going to get to see because now I have to work harder to catch back up. That’s why I’m angry.”
It was the second time, at that point in my life, where I got to really see him (the other was at my grandfather’s funeral, but that’s a story for another day) and I will be forever thankful that I was mature enough during that conversation to really hear, understand, and accept what my father was saying.
I don’t think you can understand what it’s like for a kid to look back over your past and re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about your father. Sure, my father still had a wicked bad temper but now I understood. That understanding didn’t make that temper any more acceptable, and he’d later apply that incredible work ethic he applied to his job on his emotional issues with great success, but now I got him in a way that I never did before. I saw his anger then and realized, in a way, it was a reflection of how much he loved us that he was that angry at the theft. I reconsidered how hard he worked against the plan he told me about and understood that all those times he missed something important in my life he was saddened by it but consoled himself with the fact that he’d get to have at least a part of that later.
And when all those thoughts went through my head I was angry too because here was the hardest working person I’d ever known, someone who loved me so much he’d make sacrifices I thought were selfishness to try and give me everything he never had, and now I wasn’t going to get to spend that time with him either.
Man, I was pissed, and I still am.
Today my father and I have a good relationship, one that I think is open and loving and one that I appreciate to the bottom of my heart. During the worst of the times when my parents were fighting and my father’s temper was its baddest I would have said I never wanted to be like him; which was true, I didn’t want to have a temper like his.
Now? Now I can only hope that I can be as diligent of a father to Connor as my dad was to us. He is the hardest working person I know and, considering that I know now that him doing stuff for others is how he shows his love, one of the most loving.
I love you, dad, happy Father’s Day.