My father had what could be described as a rough childhood – if you’re incredibly understating what could arguably be one of the worst childhoods imaginable. He doesn’t really talk about it, but what little he has mentioned is truly horrifying to me; I don’t even want to imagine what he’s leaving out.
He is currently a good man with a big heart, who has nothing but love for his children and his grandchildren. He is a testament to the fact that we are not proscribed by our history, and that our circumstances do not define us.
He has taught me a great deal: how to drive, how to swear at something until it works, how to treat animals and other defenseless creatures (like really, really deserving royalty in the service of whom you and I have all been created), how to be patient with the truly stupid and how to be impatient with those who just aren’t paying attention. He taught me how to feel about money – I don’t know if he even ever had any money in his wallet (my mom handled the budget, I believe), but he had a six-foot accordion in there of pictures of all of his kids, including the dog. He taught me that “Can’t died in a ditch,” that “All you have to do is die,” and that I shouldn’t depend on someone else to take care of me – I should get an education and a job and know how to take care of myself. He taught me that kids need to eat – in part because of his own beginning, my father would probably be ecstatic to see children everywhere being rolled around by Oompa-Loompas because they have had SO MUCH TO EAT that they are now PERFECTLY ROUND. He taught me that everyone has equal value … unless you have hurt someone he loves, in which case you are now worth less than worm-excrement.
My father taught me that you should put your energy behind your strengths instead of wasting your time and everyone else’s by struggling to be something you’re not. He (and my mom) also taught me that I could be anything I wanted. And, even though I spent more time with my stay-at-home mom (and learned a great deal from her too), I am more like my father in temperament – except in one important thing, the one thing he couldn’t teach me anything about at all.
My father was not allowed to cry. He could not afford to cry. I don’t even know if he knows how to cry. I have seen him standing over the sink drinking right from the Maalox bottle because his stomach hurt so bad, but I have never seen his eyes so much as glisten. For reasons that are, sadly, not about the stereotypical macho-man stuff, my father does. not. cry.
So I do.
I cry at movies. I cry at TV shows. I cry at commercials. I cry at things that were supposed to be funny, but I was overcome with the awesome metaphor or something, so I tear up. I cry when I see how cute my kids are. I cry when I see they’re not kids anymore. I cry at weddings. I cry at baptisms. I cry at graduation ceremonies. I cry for myself. I cry for others. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. When I’m angry. When I’m scared. When other people are hurt. When I have a good dream or a bad dream. When I have my friend Candice’s French Silk pie (it’s really that good). Sometimes I just cry for no particularly good reason.
My character is not a maudlin one; in fact, sometimes I feel a little heartless because others seem so much more affected by something than I am inclined to be. I tend to see life as a game; I am fairly cool in a crisis, and I laugh at almost every single thing – even bad stuff. Bad stuff needs the most laughter, so that it can be not-bad again.
Did I mention I cry when I’m laughing? Especially if it’s really, really funny.
I cry for the childhood my dad should have had and the scars he shouldn’t have. I gladly take his place in all the things he might otherwise have cried about, and I cry my little heart out on his behalf. I cry because he won’t. I cry because he can’t. I cry for my dad the way you might fill in for a co-worker who called in sick.
I cry for my dad, and I’m happy to do it.