The Second Third, Week 32: Growing Up Dad

“Our similarities are different.”
– Dale Berra, son of Yogi

In my most recent Second Third post, I insisted I was becoming (rather effortlessly) more and more like my father. The interesting part, to me at least, is that the more I become like him, the starker our differences seem. Eventually we’ll be identical, and nothing alike at all!

It makes sense in a strange way. Part of Dad’s charm – and, I believe, a big part of why he looms so large in the lives of so many – is that he is thoroughly an individual. He looks how he looks, believes what he believes, and lives how he lives – and is completely unapologetic about it. You can take him or leave him, and he might prefer the latter.

I am not so thoroughly individualized. I still work in a collaborative and political environment in which one must be flexible and take alternative views (many, and often somewhat obscure, alternative views) into account. Dad is oak, not willow: straight, tall, deeply rooted, and hard; inspiring, hot-burning, and impervious to shifting winds.

We also have different aptitudes. Dad didn’t enjoy school, and wasn’t a voracious reader until later in life. He’s always been gifted with mechanical ability, spatial intelligence, and will power. In these ways I am his opposite—but (thankfully), I did inherit both his and my Mom’s persistence. Given time, I’ll make it work, make it happen, make it come out alright.

Nevertheless, I am growing into him. He is not a man of faith, but of deep conviction; my Catholic faith has led me to a similar place, in which the grays of young manhood are reconstituting into their constituent blacks and whites. His full beard and Amish-meets-mountain-man appearance have emerged in me as an unruly mop of hair and pincushion goatee, and jeans and western boots at work. His politics and inclination to be left alone are manifest in my politics and inclination to be left alone, and his willingness to be firm with his children and die for them in a heartbeat shape me more every day.

My sense of humor and involuntary tendency to play word games are his, too. One standard eye-roller for our kids: when someone says, “I’m too tired,” I ask, “Like a bicycle?” I also make up random lyrics to old songs, and spontaneously invert the first letters or sounds of word pairs…and then rhyme them to make new pairs. For example, Dad will call my mother “peety swie” and their dog, Maggie, “duppy pog” or a family favorite, “mirthless what.” (Don’t concentrate on the words; flip the first letters and sound it out…) An example from our house: I took to calling Emma Rose “Rosebud,” then “Boserud” – then ultimately “Nosecrud” if I want to get her goat. Should you find that cruel, consider that I was referred to as Dogbreath for much of my formative years. We played these games all the time when we were younger. Dad loved “runny babbit” well before I’d ever heard of the Shel Silverstein book.

I’ve been told I look more like him, sound more like him, move more like him. In my Second Third, I hope we will become just the same. Only different.

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