My dad recently entered a 17-minute, long diatribe involving the family dog and cock-fighting and how they both relate to the history of man. The lecture, asinine and hard to follow, was sparked by his aggravation at my indecision (I answered; ‘I don’t know’ after being asked what I wanted for dinner. I should have said Chinese). I know that it was 17 minutes because when I got back to my room after the sermon, the TV was well into the second act of The Mindy Project. How dare that bastard make me miss even a second of that adorable little fudge-skinned nugget and her misadventures in love and medicine?
He is a legend for his inconveniently timed tirades, it’s one of his traits I won’t fight too hard against adapting. The dude is also a human utility belt, well adept at dismantling futons and jerry rigging garage doors. This usefulness, coupled with autocratic tendencies and a propensity for fits of anger that reach such obscene and unwarranted levels that they would make the Incredible Hulk recommend a therapist has shaped me into the giant fucking baby writer I am today.
My father enlisted in the army at 19, and was promptly shipped out to go toe to toe with Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Let that sink in for a minute: having to be parachuted into a sweaty, jungle blood bath as a teenager. And his story isn’t unique, a vast multitude of teenagers fought and died in Vietnam. And here we are, on the verge of tears reading Thought Catalog articles about old school Nickelodeon and how our ex-girlfriends/boyfriends never really loved us. We are the well-read cowards of the digital age.
During the war my dad got two confirmed kills, which I thought was a cool fact about my him until I realized the emotional scarring that has got to be caused by ending a life (although Rambo seems fine so…meh). He also had a pet monkey and smoked weed out of a rifle. But this piece isn’t about primates or drugs (although everything is sort of about primates and drugs).
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and eventually every man becomes a modified manifestation of his father. But why can’t my apple fall from the tree and roll down the hill to a valley of easy going and sociable oranges? I’m starting to feel my father come through me, like a wisdom tooth. I’m adapting his croaky voice and the way, legs crossed, like a Victorian aristocrat. I’ve got an angry streak in me too, equally as fuming and unprovoked. I’ve got his glare and his near sightedness and his flatulence, the farty bastard. And what’s more alarming than my symbiosis occurring in those aspects is my vehement polarity to his best qualities. My dad is a man of great passion and duty. Even in his retirement, years that should be filled with guilt free indulgence, he volunteers with the chamber of commerce, picking up trash and closing shady liquor stores. I am lazy and relatively passionless. Comfortable with squandering money and time and brain cells in bars and dimly lit rooms.
Dad is a family man, with a great sense of pride in all of us. He married my mom later in life and they really do complete each other, its border line adorable (although ‘adorable is adjective that should be used exclusively for puppies and babies). He loves me to a fault; I’m his only child, I’m his trophy in a sense, his legacy. He spit shines all of my minor accomplishments from their natural dull bronze to a radiant and holy gold. He has paid my rent and sometimes covers my bar tab. He is a giver, selfless and altruistic. Under the omnipresent incubation of his love I have grown to be a huge brat; I recently got angry and felt slighted when my parents let my little cousin eat the rest of the pasta they made a few nights ago. All that love has subsequently rendered me in a state of arrested development.
Up until last year I saw a pediatric dentist who always had a Frankie Muniz movie playing in the lobby. I wonder is Frankie Muniz jealous of Bryan Cranston’s success; I wonder would he trade all those hand jobs he got from Hillary Duff back in the day to have a career?
In your 20s you should have a molded psyche; you aren’t quite a real person but you’ve experienced enough to start to grow to be one. In your 20s you follow paths and open doors and build bridges and take too much food at events with free buffet tables. We learn in our 20s, we grow and we fit into molds while simultaneously breaking them.
My dad has had a road map laid in front of me for as long as I remember. I see the destination, the end goal and it’s something I want also, but I don’t want to take his path. It’s a fine path, but it ain’t mine. I say all this to say that, my feet are bigger than my dad’s now. His age is starting to slow him down, anchoring his ship while mine is catching its first wind. A changing of the guard is on the horizon; and it’s freaking me out.
My dad is a prime example of a good man. As much as I dislike him, it’s the truth that he is a (my) sterling example of a man. I watched my father in his garden climbing a ladder to hang a bird house on the tree. I watched him do this, impressed with his commitment to his beautiful garden. I watched with fearful eyes. This was the man I was someday to emulate; this was my notch in the wall I was to exceed. I also looked nervously because the ladder stretched 20 feet up and my dad is in his 60s and a fall that high could fuck up a 60 year old and I thought about what a pussifeid obituary he’d have if it read ‘Vietnam Vet died while gardening.’ Ladders should have age restrictions, like Fisher-Price toys but instead of saying “6 and up”, they should read “45 and down”.
I worry about him and my mom both, I worry that I’ll be haunting by questions I should of asked or days I should have drank in and not rushed through, I worry my future is a puzzle and my father holds key pieces that I must extract from him before being able to arrange them properly so that I can become a completed, a completed man. Don’t waste chances that you’ll kill yourself for later.