My Father's Son

I've hated the nature/nurture question. I'm fairly primed to see it both ways. There's pretty clear evidence - my mother - that genetics is playing its part with me and sewing its own moments of fear for me. But there's pretty solid evidence that upbringing has its hold on me - my father.

As I've gotten older, I've realized that I'm very much like my father. That doesn't produce the angst it does for so many people. My father has always been good to me, and I hope that I've picked up the finer points of his character - he'll give anyone the time of day, any friend the shirt off his back. What I do know is I'm quiet like my father, and I approach groups and new situations the same way he does: sitting quietly and listening until I'm sure that I've got an idea how best to fit in. I've got his love of a ridiculous joke. I've got his temper - long fuses mean big explosions. We're both sentimental about ridiculous things.

When I was growing up, my father worked a lot - there were a number of years he worked at least one job in addition to his military day job. And so, I felt closer to my mother. But I remember my father reading me stories, even when he was dog tired and never complaining (well, not till years later when he heard I was naming my dog after a character in my favorite children's book). But sometime - maybe middle school or so - my father and I became very close. Maybe it was because we shared the distaste for - but understood the necessity of - religion in my mother's life. Maybe it was just that I suddenly liked some of the things my father liked.

But it was clear my father understood me long before I ever did.

When I was in seventh grade, my current sleep pattern really took off. I liked to be up late at night, reading, writing, whatever. And I didn't like mornings. I do not envy anyone who had to wake me up then (I'm better now though I'd still rather sleep through at least 10 a.m.). My father had to suffer through that duty the most, leaving as he did for work at the same time I should have been peeling out of bed for school. And he was fed up with it - the way someone working multiple jobs might be. The way someone who'd grown up on a farm that struggled might be. The same way someone who'd spent years in the military because that was the way out of the small, struggling farm might be.

And so, one night, he came into my room, and matter-of-factly laid bare his understanding of my personality.

"You're going to do what you want to do, and nothing I say is going to stop that," he said. "So rather than fight it, here's the deal: you can do whatever you want, and we're not going to argue with you. You can stay up as late as you want; you can go where you want. Whatever. We won't get in the way. But when the consequences come, we won't blink either. And we won't listen to you complain. You know enough to make smart choices."

It was, more or less, the only real lesson I needed for adolescence (my mother would disagree, I'm sure, saying that I've still not yet learned to control my mouth). But it set the pattern. It was also, maybe, the fastest I'd heard my father speak. He'd obviously thought about it, I realize now. He'd rehearsed, many times probably. I can imagine him now, driving home from one job or another, coaching himself through it. Or maybe working in the small garden he'd put up in the backyard: the garden he'd lose years later because the city annexed the land.

My father has always taken his time to speak. It's one of those fine points I hope I pick up someday. And he's a man of few words, which I sometimes am.

This weekend my father and I talked, as we often do on Saturday or Sunday mornings. We complained about the Spurs. We talked about my job prospects, and my father - as he so often does - counseled patience. The calls are important; my father misses having me home more than the rest of my family does. Maybe this is because we so many things the same way. And I've not always been good about them or about getting home the way I'd like. Some years - particularly in grad school and the first year in this position - it simply wasn't affordable. And that's truly awful, really.

So my father ending a call asking about when I'd be home wasn't so unusual. He's 70 now and recently had a heart attack. But this time, the ending was different.

"Well, I'll see you this summer, if I'm still around."

"That's not funny," I said. "I don't want to hear that."

And when my father just sat quietly, and then said he should go take a nap, I didn't have to be my father's son to know just what was really being said.

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Brigindo said...
ash said...

oh! i hope everything's okay.

April 14, 2008 at 6:19 PM
Charlotte said...

Sad. I'm sure you'll be planning a trip home now. Hugs.

April 14, 2008 at 7:43 PM