Instead of being salty for the million things I have to be salty about this Father’s Day, I’m going to put a different spin on this thing, this time. I want to say thank you, from a sincere place, for the life lessons I received by simply drawing the short stick to have you as my father. Without you, I’d be a very different person from the one I am today.
I’ve hated you, I’ve loathed your very existence, I’ve resented the fact that we share the same last name. But still to this day I have always said you were one of the best teachers I had ever seen. I meant it then, and I mean it now. I am thankful for the countless lessons you’ve taught me, but here are the 5 life lessons that really stand out.
Lesson #1: Learn To Give up
Everyone tells you to never give up on something you want. For me, that was having a father. I gave you chance after chance, but I fired the last warning shot and you proceeded anyway. In this, I learned the valuable lesson that sometimes it’s just time to throw in the towel. Every child wants to have a mother or a father in this case, but there comes a time when you cannot accept another phone call or infraction. I had to learn to stand my ground, and give up.
Lesson #2: Learn to Recognize Family
It’s neither blood nor name that makes people family. It helps if the family shares a biological relationship, but it’s not a requirement. I learned to recognize family by those who would protect me and care for me when they were under no obligation to do so. It wasn’t their job, I wasn’t their child, I was yours. But for the purposes of security, stability, and sanity I had to find my family. At 15 while you crumbled before my eyes, I learned very quickly that in order to survive, I needed to leave home. I needed a curfew. I needed a place where I’d get grounded. I needed a place where I had to do the dishes and have chores. I learned that kids don’t need a friend who’s going to let them stay out late, buy cigarettes and booze for them and leave them to their own devices in an unsupervised house. No, children need the parent to do the parent things. We may hate you as teenagers, but we’ll respect you and love you as adults if you do your job well.
Lesson #3: Learn to Live Fearlessly
I can count the things that scare me on one hand: My plane going down in the ocean and getting eaten by sharks; walking out over the Grand Canyon on a glass bridge, walking over grates on a sidewalk, making that particular phone call to the cops in Overland Park, KS; and having kids.
I do not fear homelessness. I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I do not fear intimidation or threats of physical violence as a means to subdue me. You’ve prepared me well. I am not afraid of being disliked by people who don’t know me. I’ve been hated by people I loved because of you. I’m no stranger to challenge and discomfort, I’ve lived through the worst-case scenarios. It’s liberating to know that I’ve been to hell and I’ve come back from it. I’m not uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. You’ve enabled me to live (almost) fearlessly. It was this fearlessness that enabled me to abandon the love of my life (color theory) and travel across the United States to start a company where I aimed to rival USDA Organic knowing nothing about animal husbandry. I wasn’t afraid, and I didn’t doubt myself. I’ve only become increasingly aware of the things I am capable of, and I thank you for having put me in a position (however fucked up) to have that perspective now.
Lesson #4 Learn to Live with Authenticity
You shaped some of my favorite parts of my being, this one being perhaps my favorite. Because of you, I learned how to be unabashedly me, in all of my rawness and fuckedupedness but always 100% authentic, fuck-the-world, true to me. People will love me or hate me, but I won’t pretend to be someone else or take a softer touch just to make people like me. I learned this behavior because I had to contrast to you, to survive. You who doesn’t know how to love yourself, be authentic, or even tell yourself the truth let alone other people. You who will lie, steal, cheat, and throw whomever under the bus and do whatever it takes to look like the good guy. You whose stories were always littered with plot holes. Of course you’d get caught. And when you did, I was vindicated. Suddenly, people who had heard me a million times actually heard me for the first time. Thank you. I needed that.
The old adage that the truth shall set you free rang true. It was the only tactic I had, and it’s served me well. And, people who like me, like me. Not a caricature of me.
Lesson 5: Learn to Dig For the Silver Lining
Hands down, this has been the hardest lesson to learn, and it may be the most important one yet. Perhaps because it’s the truly the most challenging of all. We both know I’ve had years of therapy and counseling, and though I have sat on that couch so long that my ass made an imprint on the cushion— I have never been asked for the silver lining in all of this. But for the sake of self improvement, I think it’s imperative that I do so.
I can sit and whine for the rest of my life about how awful you were as a father and the things I had to go through, and nobody would blame me. I can ‘unpack’ you and ‘unpack’ you and ‘unpack’ you and understand you, and it does help me for greater understanding, but that’s a cake walk for me. I’m going to up this challenge and take this one step more.
Do you recall when I was in hair school, and every time a color nightmare came in, the instructors would come find me and give me the ticket, hoping I’d fail? I’d stomp and bitch about how unfair it was, and it was unfair. But those challenges made me better at color. They did it for the wrong reason—they would have loved to see me fail—but I didn’t. I succeeded and then I excelled. Their pettiness ultimately made me a better colorist.
So, I could whine about how the instructors didn’t like me and set out to sabotage me. But if I did that, I’d be ignoring the incredible lessons that I was taught during that experience. I’d be ignoring how those challenges made me better. How they made me more confident. And although you hurt me and you were selfish and you set out to destroy me even as a small child, you’ve been instrumental in making me better. Closer to my idealized version of myself. For all of your shittiness, you’ve helped me succeed.
Contrast me with the golden boy, dad. You did me the favor.
Nobody ever thought I’d amount to much, and I wasn’t afforded the same opportunities as the golden boy. Although this will probably anger me from the place of being your child forever, I have to thank you for that from a logical place. By giving me nothing, and actively seeking to take away everything that I held dear, you taught me the lesson of vigorously fighting for everything I have. Down to my own mother, my own brother, I have had to fight to have them. Through that struggle I learned patience, I learned how to control my anger, and I learned how to “speak to them” on the “other side” because I wanted to keep them.
The biggest lesson of all, of course, is that I know what not to do should I ever— God help me or God forbid— have children.
My hope for you is that you find a way to learn from this lesson, too. You’ve been bested, and you need a new strategy. Bested by the one person whose light you’ve tried to dim since birth. Bested by the child who could see you (how old was I? 10?). The one person who had the capacity to love you and understand you in all of your complexities and all of your fuckedupedness. The one who could have been an ally that instead you backed against a wall so I captured the queen, the knight, and didn’t mind risking the pawns. I learned how to let them go as well, and that had a silver lining, too. Because it didn’t hurt so much in the end.
I will always want a father. I can’t help but want the impossible, but I’ll never settle for less than what I deserve. Not now, not ever. But I am grateful for this story. It’s part of my identity, and I carry you around with me to remind myself how far I’ve come. But I’m also, the one who still, from afar, hopes that you find your way. Because I know you did your best. Your cards were just as shitty as mine.