“When I was twelve, I could not believe how stupid my parents were. When I turned 21, I was amazed at how much they had learned in nine years.”
â€” Mark Twain
As a kid most people noticed my similarities to my mother. We didn’t look anything alike, really, but we shared the same artistic temperament (and temper), and â€” this being the mid-twentieth century â€” she was the parent with whom I spent the most time. My mom was a housewife who never learned to drive, who channeled her frustrated artistic talents into keeping a good home, cooking for the family, raising me and my brother (and probably my father, too), and doing little craft projects here and there. It’s clear that she helped to nurture my own creative nature, and used my talents as a surrogate for her own thwarted artistic ambitions.
My dad was a different story. When pressed he would admit to his own flings with creativity â€” singing in a barbershop quartet, for example â€” but most of the time he would just point out that his wife was the creative one. He did the Mr. Cleaver thing, working hard, going on occasional out of town business trips, and driving the rest of us around to wherever we needed to go. He helped out with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and when I got into high school he joined the band parents’ association, leading it for several years. I don’t want to give the impression that he was an absentee father, because nothing could be further from the truth; however, his role was less â€” shall we say â€” colorful, than my mother’s place in my childhood.
So at first blush it seemed obvious to me that I was more my mother’s child than my father’s. He was diligent and efficient, always getting things done; I was prone to wild tangents and seldom completed anything. He never raised his voice; I had a temper. He didn’t read much more than the newspaper; I was never without a book. He watched football and tended the yard; I conducted the band and wrote weird stories. He was gregarious and laughed all the time; I was… well, a self-important, bookish teenager. That he loved me was never in doubt, but we didn’t have much in common.
But so much of who we become originates with our parents, for good or ill. My mother taught me to use my imagination and be creative, to have a vision, to reach, and to make the best use of what I was given; these are essential parts of my creative nature, and I wouldn’t have any of it without her influence. It was obvious that her goal was to mold me into an artist of some sort. My father, though, shaped who I became without me ever noticing it.
From my dad I learned to take responsibility for my actions, and to do the right thing, especially when it isn’t easy. I learned how to work hard, and the importance of doing my best work even when it isn’t appreciated. I learned to help people who need it, and to be thankful for the things I have. I learned that you’re never too old to be a kid. I learned to respect other people’s opinions without compromising my own. I learned that old ways aren’t always the best ways, and that the future is a promise. I learned to listen to what people say, and also to listen closely the way they say it. I learned how to express my emotions without falling apart. I learned that anything can be a good story if you know how to tell it. I learned, too, how to tell stories.
And one day I started to really listen to myself, and noticed how much he had taught me through the things he says, the way he says things, and the way he lives his life. Thirty years later I understand that I’m more like him than I would have guessed, and just how much I owe him.
My father is in his seventies now, retired, and living in the house where I grew up. He keeps learning new things and making new friends, and is filled with a zeal for life that I â€” with my too busy schedule and stress-filled life â€” find astonishing. Clearly I still have a lot to learn, and I’m glad he’s still around to teach me.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.