So – at a quick glance, my dad kind of looks like an ax murderer. I wish this picture were an anomaly, but pretty much every picture I have of him looks like this: a little angry, a little scary. Sometimes it’s a wonder to me that I came from him at all.
My dad used to have a shirt that said, “Arm-Wrestle a Red Neck.” He didn’t wear it to be ironic. He was literally an arm-wrestler. And a redneck. And he probably would have challenged anyone who came into his path to arm-wrestle (or fight), no questions asked. My dad was a quintessential tough guy. He didn’t wear a coat, even in sub-freezing Pittsburgh winters. When our car broke down, he pushed it down the street (with all of us inside) instead of getting it towed. He bow-hunted, and broke stuff when he was angry. He didn’t take shit from anyone, whether he knew them or not.
My dad was a perfectionist, and a really hard worker. I swear he worked overtime every single day of my life. And when he wasn’t working, he was lifting weights, and doing yard work, and building crazy arm-wrestling training machine contraptions with his own hands. He spent a good deal of his life proving how tough and strong he was, and I loved him for it. I remember when I was a little girl, sitting on his lap and tracing his tattoos with my fingers. Like a lot of girls, I literally thought he was the strongest man in the entire world. Nothing could hurt him, or me, if he was around. Mess with me, mess with my Dad. End of story.
Just like my mom taught me how to need someone, my dad taught me how to be strong. How to work my ass off to achieve what I needed to in life. How to stand up for myself (even to people who were bigger and stronger than me … enter, my proclivity to mouthing off inappropriately …). He’s the reason I got straight A’s literally my entire life. The reason I was so proud to play rugby (and tackle the crap out of people who were 10x bigger than me.) I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted to be like those parts of him that I loved.
The thing is, the good parts of people always come with bad. And along with being strong and proud, he was angry, and a little violent. And there came a time in my life when I didn’t know how to deal with my own flaws, let alone his. There was a good 10 years when my dad fell out of my life completely. Even now, my reach toward him is always tentative. I’m still not sure what his place in my life will be – but that’s another story.
If you lined up all of the words I’ve written about my dad in my lifetime, they would probably wrap around the entire world. But in the end, it all comes down to this: there is not a day that goes by that I don’t see my dad in myself, or feel proud of the person I’ve become, in large part, because of him. Here’s to Father’s Day, and to recognizing that even the parts of our family we don’t like are still a part of us. And for better or worse, they made us who we are.