For all of the essays I wrote during grade school, I remember only two. The first is a story I wrote in fifth grade about my grandpa, and the second is a narrative about my role model.
I bounced back and forth between writing about Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Orr, Nick Lidstrom or Steve Yzerman, but decided on something that hit closer to home. The second essay I remember is one I wrote about Dad.
It wasn’t as much the writing itself I recall, but the conversation about it. When I brought the assignment home, I told Mom I picked Dad to write about because I couldn’t think of a celebrity I looked up to, and decided on him instead.
She told me I better not tell him that, and that was the end of it.
Four hundred thirty two miles separate my truck from his, and that number won’t decrease overnight. I won’t be coming home for Father’s Day, just as I didn’t come home for my birthday or my parents’ anniversary.
But for all the space between us, I’m far from distant from everything I learned from Dad.
There are things I’ll probably never need to know, like how to wax a boat or tie a crazy Boy Scout knot.
There are things I’ll probably use once or twice in my coming years, like starting a weed-whacker or making sloppy joes.
And then there are the things I use every week.
Every time I put on a wrinkly shirt, I take it off. When my tank is empty, I fill it up. On the occasion I buy something new, I make sure to keep it operating as such.
Those are all secondary things, though.
When I was deciding on colleges, Mom and Dad held my hand most of the way. They scheduled appointments with each school’s journalism dean, put me face-to-face with student newspaper editors and talked each tour guide’s ears off.
But when it was time to ask questions, Mom and Dad let me have the floor. Really, I only had one real question to ask each person across the table.
“What is it your school has to offer that I can’t get anywhere else?”
Looking back, those moments were a parallel to Dad’s teachings. The things that really matter are ones that only he could instill in me.
No one else could have taught me how to take pride in my work.
No one else could have taught me to respect others.
No one else could have taught me to take chances, but use reason.
No one else could have taught me to cherish my family.
No one else could have taught me the value of earning money.
No one else could have taught me to surround myself with those whom I respect and trust.
And no one else could have taught me to chase my dreams, no matter how inherently crazy they seem, even to myself at times.
The greatest thing about all those things is that none of them were ever told to me explicitly. Never did I go through an oh-so-typical father-son lecture starting with “son…” and ending with “…because I said so. You got it?”
It was what I picked up from the man who led by example, setting forth the type of figure he wanted his children to grow up to be.
When I think of Dad, I think of three songs.
The first is “Watching You” by Rodney Atkins, because it speaks to every father-son relationship. Dad didn’t always know it, but I always wanted to emulate him growing up. Whether it was trying my free throws granny-style when he was at work because he would always beat me in P-I-G that way, or putting blueberries in my Frosted Flakes because, well, it tasted good. And I would have never thought of that.
The second would be “The Whistle Song” by Juelz Santana, because it played three times during a car ride to Petoskey once, when Dad used to play top 40 radio to satisfy my disgusting taste in music. I know he hated every lyric, but I appreciated it nonetheless.
More recently, I stumbled across “My Old Man’s Son” by Eli Young Band.
It’s a tune I can practically hear wafting through the blown-out speakers in my Dad’s old truck, the sounds of old country music breaking up the monotony of another road trip to some far-away town.
There are some people that you learn something from every time you sit down. Growing up, I was lucky Dad was one of those people.
I learned more sitting shotgun on road trips than in possibly any classroom, ever.
Dad is the type of guy that will put his neck on the line to make his family better off, and works his ass off to support the family he loves.
He and Mom have been together 22 years, as of Friday. And I know for a fact I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the father figure in my life.
It took me until a week ago, when I sat down to think about it, which childhood stories I remember writing. And for reasons unknown to me, once I remembered them, I wanted to re-write them.
Thanks for being my role model, Dad. I can’t think of anyone better.