Getting to know my dad(after he’s gone)

As a child, I was proud of my dad and the things he’d achieved. I had no understanding of the motivations that had led him to be what he was, nor the obstacles he’d overcome in order to bring them to fruition, but I thought it was really cool. “My dad’s a Fire Chief. That’s so cool!

Fast forward to me at about 13. We don’t get each other, and we clash often. Sometimes, it even becomes physical–shoving each other and whatnot. It’s just a phase, though. Two clashing egos battling it out like dumb gorillas, always over something completely inconsequential. It happens, and I can only imagine how infuriating I must’ve been–I spoke my mind with no filter and bristled at any authority who dared tell me what to do or how to act or think. He was the by-the-book antithesis of that. Naturally, there was conflict.

I’ve heard a lot of people’s perceptions of my dad since he died, and it almost feels as if I’ve gotten to know him more in the past few months than I did when he was alive. Their words paint a wonderful picture, and it’s all true, but there’s so much more.

Knowing what I know now, about how hard he worked, the things he overcame, I’m amazed. He saw things in Vietnam that no one should ever have to see. He became an alcoholic and overcame that. He had PTSD, bad, but the people who see him as a fun-loving goofball never saw that. The people working under him who feared and respected him didn’t see it, either, They didn’t see my did sitting and staring at movies like “Full Metal Jacket” and “Platoon” with tears in his eyes. They didn’t see him act a little “off” at Christmas because he saw one of his buddies get shot up by the Viet Cong on Christmas Day.

He never let any of that stuff dictate who he was. He powered through it all. He put on a happy mask and celebrated Christmas with everyone else.

He had an ego that was never satiated. After his retirement from the State Fire Marshall’s office, he got a master’s degree and at the time of his death he was going for a PhD. Master’s wasn’t good enough. He had to be the best. He had to be on top.

I didn’t understand him when I was 13. I didn’t understand the drive and The ego. I couldn’t relate to it.

It’s occurred to me, though, in recent years, that though are paths went in opposite directions as far as passions and interests go, we are alike in many ways. I see myself in him. Flaws and all. The infallible superhero reputation he has is well-earned. Our flaws shape who we are and what we grow into. They exist for a reason and they don’t make us bad people. They make us people.

I write several hours each day, and I do so compulsively. Not only am I making up for lost time that I squandered away neglecting this pursuit, but I’m doing it because I want to be the best. I have to be the best. I love it like he loved firefighting.

I’m stubborn, persistent, egotistical, impatient and hotheaded, just like him. And just like him, I’m learning how to keep those parts of myself subjugated and focused.

He knew he was the best. And then he proved it. He manifested that confidence as reality. I’m the best at what I want to do, too. At this point just a matter of letting everyone else know.

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