Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.

6/19/2006

#135 In which our hero writes a letter to his dad.

Dear Dad,

In one hour Father’s Day 2006 ends. It was a good, if unremarkable, day. The Scientist had to work, so I spent the morning playing with the girls. Later we grilled steaks and went for a walk. That was pretty much the entire day, expect for the parts where I got the girls laughing so hard that they got the hiccups, or when The Scientist made me laugh that hard. And I got two Dane Cook albums. The Scientist has a remarkable gift of buying me presents that I in no way ever indicated I wanted, but still enjoy quite a bit.

It’s strange… Father’s Day hasn’t really been important to me since you died. That was in 1993, of course, when I was 25. Since then, it’s been a non-holiday for me. If anything, it was a painful reminder that I had lost the ability to just pick up the phone and call you whenever I wanted. That sucked. And it still does.

You always said you were proud of me, but honestly, at 25 I hadn’t accomplished shit. I was working a dead-end customer service job at a newspaper. I was coasting. One of my biggest fears is that you secretly considered me a failure.

I never made this clear when you were alive, but dad, you are my hero. You were born in that little shit-hole town outside of Pittsburgh. You literally lived on the wrong side of the tracks. You also lived next to the canal, which wasn’t exactly luxury waterfront housing. The white trash lived next to the canal. White trash, punks and losers.

Your father, my grandfather, was a rag-man. Your mother died when you were young. At one point, pop-pop couldn’t afford to raise you and your four brothers and sisters, and you all had to go live in an orphanage. But despite that I never heard you say anything bad about your father, and I never saw you treat him with anything but the utmost kindness.

I have a couple faded photos of you as a kid… man, you look like a punk. And apparently you were. God knows you should have started work at a steel mill, drank beer after your shift with the guys, and lived next to the same filthy canal where you were born.

But you beat the odds. Lied about your age and joined the Navy at 15. You were stationed at Pearl Harbor several months before the Japanese attacked. But you retuned from the war intact and went to college. Managed to get a football scholarship to a small PA school. Became a teacher, and eventually, a principal. Moved to a tiny Ohio town, got married and had three girls. Then, seven years after you thought you were done with kids, mom unexpectedly got pregnant again. You finally had a boy.

Y’know, given your hard-knock life, people would have given you a lot of slack if you were a poor father… but you weren’t. You were always there for me, and for my three older sisters. You never missed one of our games or band concerts or plays. I remember that one time when I was 17 and you and mom went on a cruise, a family reunion on mom’s side. I was old enough to leave alone for a week, but it meant you would miss one of my games, basketball, I think. I know you felt terrible about it, and apologized at length. It was the first one of my activities that you ever missed, and it may have been the first of any of your kids’ activities you missed.

People tell me I’m funny, and this is all because of you. You loved to laugh, and loved to tell jokes. Now, I always thought your jokes were corny and dumb. So you didn’t teach me jokes really, but rather how to laugh at things when I could. I could make you laugh sometimes, and that was the greatest thing.

I was strangely proud that you were the principal of one of the elementary schools in town -- even though I never had you as a student myself. Your school let out an hour later than the high school did, and sometimes I would drive up to your school and just hang out with you after I was done for the day. I’ll never forget how you could walk into a gym packed with kids waiting for their buses -- loud, spastic, out of control kids -- and immediately quiet them down. But the thing is, you wouldn’t say a word… you’d wait until one kid noticed you, then he’d tell his buddy, and within moments, word spread that you were in the room and it would be silent. With just a look, you transformed 400 rambunctious kids into neat and ordered lines of perfect students.

“How do you do that?” I asked. You would just smile and say, “They know I’m not kidding around.”

This apparent fear that kids had of you always confused me. When the three elementary schools fed into the one high school in town, the other kids quickly figured out that I was your son. “Does he beat you at home?” I was asked once. Many times I’d hear, “Your dad gave me a serious whipping at school!” This, of course, when spanking was still acceptable. I would always ask, “Did you deserve it?” And the answer was always, “Yeah, pretty much.” Other kids seemed to have a little fear of you, but also a lot of respect. Kids know when an adult is fair or not, and you were always fair.

I was never afraid of you… not that you would beat me, that is. But I was afraid of disappointing you. And I know I did on a couple of occasions. I only hope that you weren’t disappointed in me when you died.

Used to be that when the subject of religion came up, I would say that I didn’t really believe in God or any of that stuff, but I didn’t like to say that out loud, just in case I was wrong. But I have a different attitude now. I want to believe -- I need to believe -- that you can see me, even now.

Because dad, I’ve done something with my life. I have a career, and I’m really good at it. I’ve achieved great things with the hobbies in my life. I have a wonderful wife that you would really like. I try hard not to rail about how unfair it is that you’re gone, but it hits me hard when I think of you not being able to meet my wife. I can almost hear the long discussions you’d have about science and the cancer that eventually killed you. You would have loved her.

And, of course, I have two wonderful little kids who will never know their grandfather. That may be the worst part of this all. However, both of my girls have a little patch on their heads where the hair grows white. Just like you did. I’m not one to believe in guardian angels or the like… but maybe, just maybe, this is a sign that you are looking out over my girls. I’ll let down my well-developed sense of skepticism and sarcasm just this once to believe that.

I miss you dad. I miss talking to you for hours on the phone. I miss the letters you wrote. Because God knows you were the King Champion of letter writers. To this day I tell people that you wrote me every week I was in college, and that each letter as at least eight to twelve pages long. Do you know that I threw all those letters away? They were just dispatches from the homefront, how the boy’s football team was doing, what was going on at the park. Now I wish I had saved them. Every banal word of them.

I know you loved me, but you rarely said it. I’m not sure why, it was probably just a generational thing. Instead, you would write me letters. Even before I left for college, you’d write down your feelings and slip the letter into my sock drawer. I’d read them, but we’d never really talk about it. Looking back it seems like an odd situation, but I think the key here is that you told me that you loved me, even if it was in a secret letter. Now, I wish I had told you that I loved you a little more often.

So it seems fitting that I’d immortalize you in the same fashion -- a letter. The only difference now, of course, is that I no longer have the option of saying “I love you” to your face.

I hope you can read this, dad. I hope you can see me. And I hope that you know, beyond all space and time and distance, that I love you very much, and I miss you very much.

Your son,

Craig.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Eileen said...

This is a great tribute. No wonder your dad was so proud of you.

8:37 PM

 

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