Father’s Day always falls on the same weekend as my dad’s birthday, so he gets one celebration. He’s fine with it, doesn’t really care about attention…just wants to go to the movies and hang out and talk about politics and watch boxing. And eat apple pie, only he’s actually trying to be paleo, so my mother makes him almond flour cake. While he eats, he make me lists of movies to watch, on the backs of napkins. They always start with The Return of Martin Guerre and some Chloe Sevigny movie I can never remember, and then we get distracted.
My father is a filmmaker, and before that, he was a history major. He thinks everyone should be a history major, not because that was his path, but because he can’t stand it when people hold forth on subjects about which they know nothing. Our kitchen table discussions of the Second Amendment race back to first principles, and he can tell you what the “founding fathers” thought about militias because he’s done the primary-source research. He’s made documentaries about the Revolutionary War, the homefront during World War II, the great migration west, and spent years becoming an expert on each period. The car trips of my childhood (to school, to San Diego) were narrated: did you know that the Puritans were actually wonderful parents?
He has his own history; he drove a cab in NYC, and he’s missing a few knuckles from stories he had to tell us when our mother wasn’t around. The manhood manual my brother and I inherited was laser-clear: gentleness and intensity as the daily clothing for power. You protect the people around you, but it’s not a big deal; you go about your own life, curious and excited, and if someone interferes, you deal with it judiciously. There isn’t time for little ideas or the small-minded people who push them into your path. There’s too much to do, and if you’re bored, well…you must have a pretty boring mind, because there’s an infinity of things to learn about and do, and here! Come help me sort through all these still photographs of stone-faced pioneer settlers while I tell you about the Prairie Itch.
When I was little, he’d sit on the side of my bed at night and “fix my fingers,” pretending to crack my knuckles while I pretended to howl and hate it. In high school, I’d poke my head into his office to say goodbye, and he’d look up and ask, “How does it feel to be so pretty?” He still kisses my brother, twenty years old, on the top of his fluffy head.
There are parenting decisions he will never live down: signing me up for soccer camps and making me join the cross country team freshman year of high school. He always wanted me to be an athlete, and he can’t tell me enough how happy he is that I’m now “a physical being.” I may have cried on the way to sports camps as a kid, but as an adult I can see what he wanted for me: the opportunity to revel in my own body, to feel powerful and loose and buoyed by endorphins. To have another way, in addition to all the ones he’d taught me already, to be happy.
I know exactly when I got the best compliment of my life. He turned to me during a ride home from school, when I was nine or ten, and said, “You know, sugar, I always figured I would love my kids, when I had them. But I never expected to like them so much. I genuinely enjoy your company.”
How lucky am I to be able to say the same? I love you, Daddy.