If you asked me to recall my first memory, to go back as far as I can remember, there are a handful of images, sounds, and feelings that immediately come to mind. As I celebrated Father’s Day yesterday, I reached as far back as I could go. What I remembered only increased my appreciation.
It was early evening, and I was eating a dill pickle at the kitchen counter in our apartment. I was two or three years old, and I always anticipated when my dad would arrive home from work. It was the early 90’s, and the mustache was trending. I can still feel the prickly whiskers on my neck and hear my dad saying, “I’m gonna get your sugar.”
Though I’m not much for hunting now, many a morning before dawn you’d find dad and I deep in the woods, huddled in a tree stand, waiting, whispering, freezing, excited, happy. I know venturing into that dark unknown by his side sewed some of the earliest seeds of confidence and adventure I’d reap later in life.
My Dad was the outlier for his context and circumstances growing up. Born and raised in a rural farming town, he worked from an early age to create the life he desired. Starting at age thirteen, he worked long hours at a nearby nursery to buy and restore his first car, a 1968 Camaro. He was no stranger to hard work and manual labor.
Years later he would become the first person in his family to graduate college, working full-time while becoming an electrical engineer. It was these stories I always looked to, my reference point for making decisions about my own life. I had no excuses in his example, and that struck a good balance of intimidating and inspiring. I vividly remember him telling me once, “You don’t say ‘I can’t.’”
I used to think my dad could literally do or build anything. I still think that’s mostly true, actually. I laugh now as I think back to the carpentry textbook he kept in the bathroom, among other “how-to” manuals. If he wanted to do something, he just figured out what needed to be learned and did it.
And it wasn’t just what he was interested in either. I didn’t go the football route like him, preferring music and more creative endeavors, but rather than being a disappointment for an opportunity to live the good ole’ days vicariously through me, he and my Mom paid for lesson after lesson and made sure I had all the music gear I ever wanted and needed.
They were always supportive, even when it involved racing and jumping dirt bikes. I can’t fathom the number of miles and hours logged for the sake of getting us to whatever we were pursuing at the time. The time, energy, and resources they both expended for the sake of our childhood makes me want to be a better adult.
Now I’m thirty years-old, older than my dad was when they had me, and most of the angsty complaints you can come up with about your upbringing have faded as I’ve gained perspective and realized just how much of a blessing imperfect parents who tried really, really hard are.
Not only would I not exist if it weren’t for their path, difficult choices, hard work, I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the foundation, the guideposts, the support, the correction, and the love.
Love you, Dad.