A Man To Man Lesson On Faith and Family
I know I said today’s post would be football term’s for ladies to apply in their dating life, but I’m postponing that topic because something else is on my mind.
This is hard for me to write about without giving some context, bare with me as I unpack a couple of things before moving forward.
I never write about my dad. My late biological father has been written about at length, so has my pop. The man my mother is married to, I refer to him as my step-dad. In my own head, these men are clearly separated and compartmentalized. To the reader, things are probably a little more jumbled, largely because I don’t write about my life in chronological order. I hop around, jumping from memory to memory.
So when I say my dad, understand I am not talking about the men I mentioned above. I am talking about the man whose last name was given to me after he adopted me as his own. He brought my sister into this world. He and my mom were married, but divorced when I was 5 or 6. From then on, he was more of a weekend dad, seeing us about twice a month.
I’ve had my issues with my dad. They’re not as deep as the issues I had with the absence of my biological father or the troubling and complicated relationship I had with my pop, but issues nonetheless. Most of these bore out of how little we saw him even though he never lived too far away. He never raised us so much as he visited us, and there were times my sister and I both resented him for it. The other issue is, how remarkably different he is from my sister and I.
Our dad is a white man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who listens to The Doors, wears Wranglers, votes Repubican, loves Pittsburgh sports, the Steelers especially, and watches Nascar. We could not be more opposite if I was night and he, day, which made the physical distance between us feel much farther than it ever really was.
Thankfully, over the years, my issues with him have subsided. We talk most Sundays on the telephone, the conversations mostly brief check-ins, but I am proud to say, occasionally they run long.
I do not have an exact date to commemorate the moment it became easier to open up to my dad. But I clearly recall the chapter in my life when we began to talk about more than just the latest Steelers news and what the weather was like in New York City and Columbus, Ohio where he lives.
When I was preparing for my ex-girlfriend to move in with me, he was one of the first people I reached out to for counsel.
My dad has had a rough go at love. After he and my mom divorced, he married another woman, they too divorced. He is happily married now, has been for I think 15 or so years. He’s in a great place, but it wasn’t always that way, and if I was going to go through ups and downs in my own life, I wanted to prepare myself from someone who knew a thing or two about love had and love lost.
Through all my resentment, guilt, anguish, and frustration of seeing my last relationship fall apart, my dad at times proved to be the consumate confidant. He wasn’t the wisest with words. His most common phrase was, “It’s not easy, son.” But spoken through the filter of experience, he sometimes sounded like Yoda.
In November of last year, I went down to North Carolina where my dad and his side of the family vacation for two weeks every year. It was the first time I saw him since 2004, and though we talk regularly, seeing him face to face felt like a different animal.
There was a conversation I wanted to have with him, different from all the others. I turned 30 only four months prior, I was without a job, and questioning a lot of things in my own life. Once again I thought who better than my dad to discuss these things. My dad works as a carpet cleaning contractor, and most of my life, was a bartender and a restaurant manager. We talk about career stuff on occasion, but it wasn’t the topic I wanted to talk about.
I spent most of my years believing I would be married by the time I’m 30. The name of this site alone can tell you how that’s all worked out. My dad on the other hand, by the time he was my age, adopted me, married my mother, and together they had my sister.
Most of us don’t realize how young some of our parents are until we became the age they were when they brought us into the world. When I think about everything my dad went through when he was the age I am now, I’m in awe. People like to say times were different back then, but my dad and mom married in the 1980s and divorced in the 1980s. Times have changed, but there hasn’t been that much time that has gone by.
The urge to ask my dad questions about the period in his life when he met my mom, adopted me as his own, had my sister, and then moved all of us from Washington, D.C. to settle in California, came from a conversation I had with my mom.
When I was let go of my previous job, I felt like I hit rock bottom. Forget about picking myself back up, I had no idea where to go. My mom heard the hopelessness and the fear in my voice when I broke the news to her. That’s when she told me about the time my dad was fired from his job.
“I remember I was working at your grandmother’s restaurant. We were just getting by, with you, your sister, and a new house. And your dad came walked into the restaurant whiter than I ever saw him and he didn’t have to say anything to me. I knew because the fear in his eyes said everything. He was scared.”
I don’t remember seeing what my dad looked like when he walked into the restaurant. Hell, I probably wasn’t there, but, I knew when I looked in the mirror at my own reflection, I had the same look she described my dad having. Her little story was a way of telling me I should talk to my dad about what I was feeling.
From therapy I learned sometimes we just need to know someone’s story in order to understand ours better. So when I tried to have this talk with my dad, the plan was to let him talk.
Notice I said, “tried?”
We talked, but I can’t say he was enlightening in the way I imagined him to be.
Here’s the thing: As I said before, my mom and dad are divorced, but it was my mom who chose to divorce him (though to be clear, this had nothing to do with what happened at his job). I don’t recall anything about their divorce other than the night my mom told him because everyone remembers the first time they see a grown man cry, especially when that man is their dad.
When I finally had my dad alone so we could talk, I failed to account for whether or not he was ready to have what was a difficult conversation.
I peppered him with question after question. My dad tried at first to answer the questions, but he was being vague. I didn’t want to treat this like an interview for a story I was working on, but he was giving me no choice as he skirted around certain questions. Back and forth we went for about five minutes before his agitation spread from the sound of his voice to his entire body language. He was giving me one word answers, and looking in the complete opposite direction. It didn’t take long before I knew I was going too far.
People like to talk about how it’s not in man’s nature to open up and talk about feelings. The truth is, it is no one’s nature to share feelings too painful to discuss. Men don’t like to cry, but it’s not like women love shedding tears either. Some memories just hurt too much to relive. Not wanting to revisit them or share them is a sentiment men and women can understand.
When my dad married my mom, he probably thought, this was it, forever. When my mom filed for divorce, the life he planned blew up in his face. I don’t question or begrudge my mom for what she did. She is not the bad guy and seeing as my dad has been happily married for many years, I don’t think he can say mistakes were made.
But being at peace with the past doesn’t mean we forgot how the past felt when it was the present.
The idea of hearts breaking is a simple concept. They’re like any other breakable object in that even if we put the broken pieces back together, and they stay that way, we still see the cracks. When someone points to those cracks and asks, “What happened?” we most often wince before we say anything, if we say anything at all.
Some memories are facts we cannot deny and for as long as we live, they can never be erased from our personal archives. These are my dad’s facts:
He married my mom.
No one gets married and thinks it will not last forever.
I got the feeling the night I talked to my dad, he didn’t want to expound on those years with my mom because the memory of how it all ended is still too painful for him. We’re not talking about a simple matter of plans changing, we’re talking about lives changing.
Since my mother raised me, I never considered anyone else’s long, difficult road to happy until that night I talked to my dad. Men too, spend their lives trying to get it right, along the way they learn lessons and though the hardest ones are probably the most valuable, they are far too painful to pass on.
A couple of days later, while still in North Carolina, my dad and I found ourselves alone again. This time, we were on a balcony outside of the restaurant where the whole family just had a huge dinner. This time, when I stepped outside, I did so just because it felt right. I had no agenda, I had no questions.
My dad took a long drag from his cigarette, exhaled, then turned to look at me. His eyes were wet.
“Son, I know I wasn’t much help when you tried to talk to me the other night,” he said. “But honestly, I don’t know what to say. I really don’t because I’ve gotten it wrong and now I think I’ve gotten it right, but who knows? All I know is what I learned from your grandfather who has been with your grandmother for 60 years. It’s about faith and it’s about family.”
He took another drag of his cigarette, put it out, and as he walked back inside he said to me one more time: “Faith and family.”