Monday, January 19, 2009

Dust To Dust


The older we got, the less our dad liked us. It was simply a fact about him that he loved babies and children, but struggled to enjoy the presence of a teenager. It was something I was never fully conscious of as I grew up, but it became clear years later. You can't see a crop circle while walking the field. My parents lost their first born, Jason, to leukemia when he was just seven years old—I don't think my dad ever really recovered from that.

Towards the end of our lives as a family, praise or involvement from him was increasingly a rarity. It didn't bother me much at that point, as like many high school kids my thoughts were bent on going to college and getting up and away already. When my parents dropped me off at college in the Fall of 1998, my dad shook my hand and said the most direct and honest thing he'd said to me in months, "Good luck, even though luck has nothing to do with it." I think it might have pissed me off for a brief moment, because I was a teenager and beyond tired of hearing shit like that, but it was true. I did enter college unsure of how I would fare, curious of what was ahead and scared that it could be some world so foreign and uncomfortable that I would find no other path than failure. After all, I spent about twenty minutes (total) doing homework in high school and somehow eked out a 3.1 GPA. But I did get good ACT and SAT scores. I knew I was smart, I just didn't know if I'd be one of those guys that makes it a year or less and finds a reason to quit, and I think my parents had that concern as well.

In June of 1999 I was back in Madison for what would be my last summer there, proud and triumphant after earning about a 3.5 or so in my first year at a Big Ten school. It was surely a year of accelerated growth and learning beyond the classroom, and I had proven that I could do it, I could succeed and go forth responsibly. I had not fully realized this for myself until one day that June my dad and I got in the car to go meet my mom somewhere for dinner. As he put the car in gear and backed out of our driveway, he said, "I just wanna tell ya mom and I are real proud of you. A lotta guys don't make it past year one. You did really well. You're gonna be OK." I think it was the nicest thing he ever said to me. I realize the event was not the most personal or touching, but his relationship with us wasn't either. By that point he was already in a long term extra-marital relationship, and was just going through the motions with our family. The discovery and divorce and so on was months away, but he had pretty much already checked out.

That day, I know he made a point to say that to me before he said it. I know that he had thought about it and realized it was probably something I needed to hear, something I would need to remember years later, something someone did or didn't say to him when he was nineteen.


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