Friday, June 13, 2014

An ordinary day

In a couple of days, my dad and I will celebrate our 38th Father's Day.  We'll eat grilled chicken and vegetables--we're both on a bit of a health kick lately, which we both need--and we'll talk about politics and what's going on in our lives, and about trivia, which is one of our common interests.  We'll probably have the U.S. Open on in the background.  We might play guitars and sing old songs.

I don't believe in luck per se, but my whole life I have benefited from circumstances that were not of my doing.  So much of how we end up in life is controlled by where we start.  I was born to parents who were ambitious enough to work hard to provide a good life for me and my brother, but well grounded enough that they knew who we were as we grew up. 

My parents are smart and kind people.  They gave the appearance of being entirely focused on us, whether that was actually true or not.  Their social lives revolved around ours.  We ate dinner together nearly every night at a time when it would have been easy for one or the other of them to have better things to do.

Then again, maybe they didn't have better things to do.  Maybe there aren't better things than having dinner with your family.

And they stayed together.  My generation was the first to experience being, on a widespread basis, the children of divorced parents.  One of the hard things for me about seeing criticism of the Baby Boom generation--the "Me" generation--is how unfair a descriptor it is for my own parents, who are the opposite of that. 

Growing up, I never had a curfew.  My parents had a different philosophy.  The rule was, "tell us where you're going to be, who you're going to be with, and when you're going to be home, and if any of that changes, call."  I remember thinking that it was a tremendous act of trust on their part, but I think now it was more about knowing me.  My mother once remarked that she always knew what flavor of ice cream I would choose.  It's not much of a stretch to think that she knew what my other choices would be. 

I don't think they ever missed a single game I ever played--baseball, football, basketball, or soccer--or for that matter, a concert I played or sang in, or a play I acted in, or anything else important that I was involved in.  It was an enormous expenditure of time and effort.  Most of the time, in sports, my dad was coaching--and he was a great coach, just the right combination of teacher, athlete, and fan.  Through sports, my dad taught me some important things--lessons I've carried and applied my whole life.  The most important one is that it only takes a little more effort to be first class.  You spend a little more time in the batting cage.  You hustle a little more.  Or you proofread that brief one more time. "Good enough" isn't "good enough" until you're sure you've given it 100%.

It didn't hurt that sports interested me, or that I was mostly good at them, but I got the impression that it didn't matter what kinds of things I chose to enjoy; Dad would be there, no matter what.

About a year ago, Michelle and I moved back to Arkansas full time.  We were tired of being so far from family and friends, and of never having time to make a life where we were.  But mostly it was time to come home to be nearer to our parents, to see them more often while we can.

He's getting older, my dad.  He just had cataract surgery on his right eye.  (Amazing surgery, by the way; for the first time in my memory, he won't be wearing a corrective lens in that eye.)  Years of football--he was a scholarship player in college--caused his knees to wear out early.  I'm hoping he's about at the point where he's ready to have them replaced.  When he does, and when he's ready, the first thing I want to do is play catch, just like we used to do when I was 9.  That will be a great day.

But the truth is that it will also be an average day.  We talk by phone several times a week.  I visit him, he visits me.  We do things together.  We're friends, and we like spending time together.

Not everyone has a father like mine.  Some fathers leave.  Some fathers die.  Some are so emotionally distant, or drunk, or absent, or harsh, that they might as well be gone.  Father's Day sort of celebrates all of them, and by doing so makes itself a silly, nothing holiday--a Hallmark-card travesty. 

But we'll get together, my dad and me, on that silly, nothing holiday, and we'll hug, and we'll enjoy a meal together, and we'll watch other people exercise, and it will mean something to both of us.  And I'm fortunate that it will be just like any other ordinary day.

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