When recalling my childhood, I remember one phrase of my Mom’s above all else: “Stop encouraging him!” As might be expected, this was my poor beleaguered Mom smilingly and exasperatingly chastising my Dad for yet again winding me up in some fashion or another. Truth be told, this was actually only half the time; the other half, she was saying the same thing to me, as I was inevitably winding my Dad up right back, and him loving it all the while.
This is what I remember; just having fun. The constant sense of play, the laughter, the sheer joy of being with my parents. And the gleeful way in which my Dad in particular would neither sink to my level, nor I rise to his; rather, we met in some delightful middle where we managed to be peers in play.
I eventually grew up, of course, as children will, and accordingly left home for adventures far afield. But unlike perhaps many of my age (the mystifyingly misunderstood twenty-somethings of Generation X), I delighted in returning home. Not for the free laundry or home-cooked meals — though those were certainly appreciated — but for the talking, the companionship, the intimacy.
Once the day had moved through its phases, and the night had come down, we could set about our patterns. As the dishwasher rumbled away in the kitchen (one of just a few excesses my parents allowed themselves after I left home), and my Mom was busy puttering ‘round her orchids, my Dad and I would select our evening wine, fill our glasses, and adjourn to the living room to begin dissecting the matters of the day. Art, literature, politics, pop culture, music, the military, academia, whatever we wanted, and often all the above. We’d talk, we’d argue, we’d debate, uninterrupted save for the occasional “stop encouraging him!” from my Mom in the other room. And it was wonderful.
I can close my eyes at any time and instantly see my Dad in his chair, glass of wine on his armrest, and it makes me so very happy.
My folks often tease me, reminding me of their expectation that I’ll take care of them when they get old, to which I respond with the reminder that, as they had me when they were barely yet entering their twenties, when they “get old,” I will be old too.
I look forward to this. And in fact, we’re already on our way, just a bit. My Dad and I don’t stay up as late as we used to. We don’t drink as much wine as we used to. And we talk more about Clara Bay (my daughter, his grand-daughter) than Andy Warhol, Ronald Reagan, Lady Gaga, Karl Marx, Louise Gluck, or George Carlin. And it’s wonderful.
Having lived in Michigan for many years during the early years of our family (my elementary school years, primarily), we are all all-too-familiar with that Great Lakes climate, and as such, I don’t see my Dad and I doing a Grumpy Old Men routine in some fishing igloo in the middle of winter. Rather, I see us as we’ve always been, in a room together, having a wonderful time, and encouraging each other.
To my Dad, I say Happy Father’s Day!
Being a Dad myself now, I’ve discovered love anew, in ways I never could have understood it before. And I love my Dad all the more because of this. And I love it when my wife says to me, “Stop encouraging her,” or to my daughter, “Stop encouraging him!” And best of all perhaps, I love telling my Dad to stop encouraging my daughter. Because I don’t mean it one single bit.
Tags: Father's Day