Despite Our Distance, That Day My Dad Taught Me A Lesson I’ll Never Forget
Yesterday would have been my dad’s birthday. I know because my mom told me so. I didn’t forget. I didn’t remember. I simply didn’t know. I’ve simply never known. I’ve never cared enough to know.
He died several years ago. Before he died, he met my children. He met my wife. “That man is daddy’s daddy,” I remember hearing my older daughter whisper to my younger daughter. They never really knew him.
Neither did I, really.
I heard the stories about him. Of which most of them I’m not too fond. Many of them paint him as someone who was fun, someone who was the life of any party. Too many of them paint him as someone who was irresponsible, someone who failed to live up to his promise.
Perhaps the stories are true. I neither know nor care. I’m not one to judge them. I’m not one to judge him. I didn’t see him much after my mom and I moved from New Orleans to Atlanta.
I would visit him in New Orleans from time to time. He would visit me in Atlanta from time to time. He came to my high school graduation. I remember he was the first and only person I let smoke in my car. He’d come to town ever so often when his Saints played my Falcons.
We grew distant. Mainly me. I can be rather aloof at times. I can’t remember ever having a man to man conversation with him. He was proud of me. He’d often tell me so. He loved me. He’d often tell me so. But our conversations were mostly superficial.
And then he died.
And then there was a memorial service. And then I had to listen to the stories. The ones I never liked. The ones about him being the life of the party. The ones about him being irresponsible. The ones about him failing to live up to his promise.
I wanted to speak. I wanted to tell a different story. I wanted to tell the one story I so vividly remember. It was the one about that time when I was a child. That time I saw a person dressed raggedly who may or may not have been drinking. I called him a bum and dismissed him as someone who was beneath me.
My daughters’ daddy’s dad told me that that person dressed raggedly who may or may not have been drinking was not a bum. He told me that that person dressed raggedly who may or may not have been drinking was a man and I was to respect him as such. My dad didn’t judge him. And I never would again.
I’ve never called anyone a bum since nor thought of another as lesser. Although my dad and I never had a man to man conversation, we had a man to boy conversation that helped me become the man I am. And perhaps that’s why in part I became a defense attorney who defends those who sometimes dress raggedly and who may or may not have been drinking.
I don’t recall my dad as being much of a disciplinarian. From him, that was a stern rebuke. It’s simple lesson lasted a lifetime. It’s a simple lesson for which I’m forever grateful.
That’s the story I wanted to tell at my dad’s memorial service. That’s the picture of him I wanted to paint. Ever since, I’ve regretted sitting silently when it was my responsibility to speak. I failed to live up to my promise. Don’t blame it on genetics. Blame it entirely on me.
But yesterday would’ve been my daughters’ daddy’s dad’s birthday. I know because my mom told me so. Next year she won’t have to.
Because I’ll think of this story and I’ll care enough to know.