father’s day

21 Jun

I don’t post much about my father, because we are currently not really on speaking terms, and I don’t want to say anything that would exacerbate what’s already a problematic relationship. And while this is sad, those who know me know that it’s part of a mosaic of fraught relationships, going back before I was much born, and hopefully not (but, I don’t know, inevitably?) extending forward into the future of Baby B. But it’s Father’s Day – my first as a father myself – and I think it merits something more than a ‘father’s day – meh’ response.

When I was 11 years old, in 6th grade, my dad was larger than life to me.

He was smart, we all knew. He turned 16 the August before starting at MIT, where he went on a scholarship. He went there to study metallurgy, and he was meant to be the first college-education engineer in my family, to help with what was turning out to be the kind of family business – a metals reclamation business in Chicago. Instead, my dad became interested in economics and political science. When he graduated, he was ‘invited’ to study at the University of Chicago Law School, as part of their then-new partnership with the Political Science department at Northwestern University. But political science was more politics and less science than he was interested in, and he turned instead to law, ending up full-time at the University of Chicago, and eventually in one of the big law firms in Chicago. Years, and multiple jumps from big firm to his own firm to big firm, to a partnership, back and forth, he finally ended up in his own law firm.

He was virtually the first of his generation to go to college, certainly the first to get a post-graduate degree. His own father died at about the time he graduated from law school, and he married and moved out at about that time. My father is stubborn, opinionated, often brilliant, and very much old-school. As a kid, we got spanked occasionally. He has always carried around a handkerchief. He has always been of the opinion that parents are not really meant to be ‘friends’ with their kids, and that his job was to teach us, and to demonstrate to us, that life is about working hard, being independent.

When I was in sixth grade, then, my father was something of an intimidating figure. As I said, larger than life.

At my elementary school, we had a kind of weekly Good Will Hunting scene, where our teacher would post word problems, and students would try to get extra credit by answering them (you know, a train going 50 mph starts off from LA, another going 75mph from NY, etc). I did pretty well with these problems, but on a particularly thorny one, I spent hours trying to puzzle it out. Well, memory fades, right, and I was 11? Probably hour. Maybe minutes. And when I finished I checked and re-checked my work, then gave it to my dad to see what he thought. He endorsed my answer as well.

When I turned the answer in, though, I wasn’t given credit. Mrs. McCurdy informed me that my answer was incorrect. And I argued with her, that the answer she had must be wrong. Obviously. And then I shouted at her that her stupid book (because I assumed that teachers were so stupid that she just got the stupid problem out of a stupid book) was wrong. Because my dad told me it was right. And can you believe it, but the book WAS wrong, and I WAS right. Heh, right. Of course I was wrong, and my dad along with me.

It was the first time in my life that I had the specific realization that my father wasn’t always smarter, or always right. In retrospect, I doubt my own seeming perfection will last 11 years in the eyes of my own boy. But it was the first time I can remember the fallibility of my father.

I actually hope that someday I’ll figure out how to have something more of a relationship with my father than I have currently. I honestly don’t exactly know how that might happen. But it’s Father’s Day, and it is worth saying that despite the fact that he’s not a perfect man, and hasn’t been since I was 11, I love him very much.

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