My father filled up a room like no one else I have ever known-and my points of reference are rock stars, movie celebrities and world leaders (yeah, I've done some $hit if I have to say so myself) but my father owned every room he set foot in. He wasn't physically imposing, standing about five and half feet tall, fighting and usually losing a battle of the bulge with a headful of gray hair, he told us, from the time he was nineteen. He had a line he offered people who thought he was an old man because of the hair, 'just because there's snow on the roof doesn't mean there's not a fire in the chimney.' I suspect he said it in French and Latin, as well, because he could and that's how he was.
He was also someone whom, no matter how well I did, I could never please. It seems pathetic for a man 58 years old to admit to something like that, but if you know me, you know I am pathetic and aren't surprised at all. Being named for him didn't help and if I had a dollar for every time he told me growing up it wasn't his idea to name me after him, I would never have needed to go to work.
What I got from that, within eye blinks of learning Sigrid was pregnant with our son, was to vow we would NOT name that boy after me. Unlike so many other instances in our married life, that promise was something I did follow through on. Actually, the other thing I did was to work very hard to not be the father or husband that he had been.
The jury's still out on the first part, as our children are 28 and 23, adults of their own but I would hope my wife thinks I'm a decent husband, maybe even a good man, who does the best he can with what he has. Ironically, that's a legacy of my father-one that for many years I wasn't willing to grant to him.
Maybe, in the decades since his death, I've come to better appreciate how much work it takes to be a man who's there for his family. You get up everyday and do the best you can for you and yours and some days your road takes you places you hadn't planned on and you look up and realize you've lost your way. The trick, I think, is in knowing that you're lost but more in being able to find your way back. Our children never met or knew their American Opa; nor he, them. That's a regret I'll have until the day I die.
And while I think my kids can talk to me about anything (in Michelle's case, almost anything) even when I hope they won't, there's a hole in my heart my pride won't acknowledge and a hollow sound that no amount of outside applause can cover. There's a grinding of gears in the tears between the generations that I remember from my own youth and knew then, as now, I am powerless to stop once it has started. Arms to shoulder, we'll leave our tracks untraceable now. I think you'd have liked them, Dad-our Pat and Mike, you'd have loved them, I know. Happy Birthday.