Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Happy Birthday, Papa Bug

Today is my father's 56th birthday.

Whenever people ask about him, I usually tell one of the two stories of him that really stand out in my mind and show what kind of a man he was. Today I'm not going to tell either of those. (I'm more philosophical this afternoon, I suppose.) I just want to talk about him for a while.

My father took on a lot of trouble on my account. When I was born he drove Mom to the hospital - or more precisely, he drove her halfway there and then the both of us the rest of the way. When I was baptized he stood as godfather. And when my mother, abandoned by her husband, accepted his proposal and married him, he immediately set about adopting me, while losing his own father, untimely, to cancer.

He didn't let it stop him. He didn't wait for suitable circumstances, but made the circumstances suit him. And he never let anything stop him from showing that he loved us. I was seven when I learned that I had been adopted and that Dad was, in fact, my stepfather - and I promptly let it slide, because it didn't seem to make a difference. My brother and sister came along, and he treated me no differently than either of them. I saw him dote over the both of them as infants and toddlers and knew that, before I could possibly remember, he doted over me in the same way.

He worked very hard, for long hours, to make sure we were provided for. He devoted time to us that he probably couldn't spare, since he often worked nights and needed to sleep. He was an artist on the side; I remember the silk-screening business that he and Mom started when I was a boy, featuring his own original artwork as part of the sales pitch for anyone that needed their hats and shirts designed, or redesigned. (You'd hardly believe some of the horrid stuff they'd walk in with, and the superior work they left with. Dad was more of a diplomat than I had given him credit for.)

He gave me my love of sports and film music. He was my first chess teacher. We taped Star Trek episodes together. He taught me to drive and did such a good job that I still passed the road test despite not taking it for four years. When I came back from college for the summers we had long, famous philosophical discussions over marathon Axis and Allies sessions.

I still miss him as much as ever, nearly 14 years after he died. When I'm ungrateful I think about what our relationship was becoming as I finally sprawled over the threshold of manhood, and losing it just as it was emerging. But then I think that my brother lost him while he was still in grade school, and my sister can scarcely remember him at all. I think of my mother losing the great love of her life while still in her thirties. And I think that for all of that, it was worth it anyway: to have known him for those years, and to see so much of his determination and generosity in my brother, and his love of reading and music (albeit not the same tastes!) in my sister.

We all love you, Dad. Thanks.

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