It’s totally true. He never says it. One time, in middle school, I jumped out of his GMC truck, grabbed my backpack and said, “I love you!” and he squeamishly responded, “Okay!” I’ll never forget that, mostly because I think that’s actually the perfect metaphor for my relationship with my dad. I’m all heart and he’s all Papa.
Father’s Day had me thinking about him, of course. I don’t know how to describe him well enough to actually portray his complexity, but I’ll try. My dad is an engineer, and appreciates facts and reason. He’s kind of course and messy, like the outside crust of a just-smoked brisket. He says what he’s thinking, has no filter, and has no patience for bullshit. He’s an old-school, hispanic male who can’t help but be a product of his hard-as-nails upbringing, sometimes a little callous.
But he’s also the guy you call when the shit is really going down, and he will help you figure it all out, with a level-headed “we’ll get through this” approach. He’d hate for you to know he’s got a thoughtful, squishy side that thinks and feels beneath the top layers. I once took a personality test, and it explained that I’m the type of person who pours a bowl of cereal, and thinks about the people behind the cereal, like “Who are the people that made this cereal?” or, “What’s their life situation like?” I get that from my dad. Basically, I know not to expect a lovey-dovey, card-writing, emotion-sharing, “Daddy” dad. I know to expect a smart, thoughtful, but tough guy who would do (and has done) anything for me or my sisters; who loves us tough, but loves us whole. He’s also funny as hell, and makes the best barbecued-anything you’ve ever had.
I’ve learned from my dad that the world can be a tough one. It’s not fair, and there isn’t a group of people, clapping and waiting to go out of their way to watch out for you. That’s what family is for. I’ve learned that right when you think you’re not good enough, there’s a little nugget of something that lives inside of you, and it glows through the night until you figure out you are good enough in the morning. I’ve learned that when things in your life are falling apart; your friendships, your marriage, your damned self, and you accidentally fuck it up by hiding from the problems, that you learn from your mistakes and get back up again. Bonus points if you apologize to the people you hurt in the process. I’ve learned that sometimes, you’ve gotta spit on the ground, roll up your sleeves, and FIGHT for it.
So, no. He doesn’t say, “I love you.” He just does it, and shows it, and I’m grateful as hell to him and my mom for teaching their girls to be transparent, but strong. To be loving, but to be badasses too.
This Father’s Day, we took a dozen Bill Miller chopped barbecue sandwiches and those mushy, hot fries to my parent’s house. I plopped those bad boys on the table, and made my way into his humid man cave with shelves of African violet sprouts and yellowed papers. I sat down at his dusty PC, logged into my Amazon account, and emailed him a $25 gift card. He wrote me this morning and said he planned to buy a nose hair trimmer, you know, because he’s a dad. It doesn’t get any better than that for me, y’all.
Clearly, I love my parents so much. I hope you celebrated your dad, or someone who filled the role of saving your ass while kind of kicking it too.
Happy Father’s Day, Papa. You (and Mom!) really are my heroes.