I thought I knew my dad. Because I’ve always known him haven’t I? Since the literal moment I was born. Before then really.
But last night, I met him–really saw him for who he was, independent of being my dad–for the very first time. And now, I know him.
Other people knew him. They’ve been trying to introduce me for 41 years. “Your dad…” they would say, and then they would proceed with an awed anecdote about him. I would nod. But I wasn’t listening. He was my dad. He didn’t need to be anything else. He certainly didn’t need to be anything to them. It was enough always that he was mine.
You get used to not hearing, not seeing someone. Somehow, that’s real parenting. When you are so solidly dependable, so completely ever-present that you are invisible.
My dad became invisible every day that he went to work, to a job he loved for every single day of 38.5 (but who’s counting?) years. He disappeared every time he received my uncharacteristic (for our family) displays of affection: a kiss on the cheek before bed, a shouted, “I love you.” from around a corner, where I could be sure he couldn’t see my face (Because. Embarrassing!). Every day that he loved my mom, worried over his 8 kids, read and then strewed his newspaper around the house, he became more transparent.
We all knew, all 8 of us, that he was the softy. Mom was the enforcer. Dad was the yes-man. When watching TV together, all heads swung to dad during the touching Hallmark commercials because it was inevitable, he was crying. You could count on it like the sunrise. If you were a kid like me, you wanted to be the reason for the happy tears, the proud ones. If you were a kid like me, you didn’t want to disappoint him.
He was always better than mom about keeping track of things, so if you needed them to commit to a date, you called dad. Otherwise, he was the guy who answered the phone, the portal to mom. He was the oh-that-old-joke teller, the peace maker, the miss-speller, the tease.
He expected things. Expected us to HURRY and clean up before mom got home. Expected us to go to church every week. Expected us to get school right. To work hard. But, except for the “HURRY! Clean up! Mom is coming!” he never said any of those expectations out loud. We knew though. We knew.
But as it turns out, I didn’t know him at all. I only knew him as a satellite to me. Until last night.
Last night, when he stood at a pulpit in my church (the one he got me in the habit of attending and loving), he was solidly, visibly, wholly, independently, vulnerably all there. He hinted to the audience that he belonged to some of us (my sister and me), but he was vague, so even if they knew me, they may not have made the connection.
And then he spoke.
Just like he always has. Telling the same stories I have heard and heard. Emanating his passion. Pulling the eyes of the youngest of the 12-year-olds to him. Engaging people. Not because he was my dad, but because the story-telling, the conviction, the thoughtfulness, the emotion, the all of him.
He spoke about genealogy.
Just like he always has. For all of my 41 years, my dad has been talking about genealogy, family history. For 41 years, I have rolled my eyes, genealogy is BORING and hard to spell! But last night, I saw it and him for what they really are; clay in the hands of a master. ‘Twas my dad in his element, communicating it in a way that made everyone in the room want to make it their element. Even. Me.
Time chases its tail. In 41 years, I may not be here. My dad, most certainly won’t be here. Last night, I met him. But his message was that even if I hadn’t, If I’d never known him, I still could know him because of that boring genealogy.
My dad, you guys, is so, SO cool.
I always thought mom went out of town when the house got so messy she didn’t want to clean it.
I remember having very similar feelings when I went to one of dad’s genealogy conferences. He was in Ontario in 2002 and got me a ticket to the conference, I sat in awe of him during his presentations. He is an expert and shares his knowledge freely and with passion. I had forgotten, thanks for the reminder of how awesome our dad is.
Awesome! I recently saw my dad as a real human for perhaps the first time too. Because, as you said, parallel lives.