January 24th is my dad’s birthday. And, as frequently overlooked here as he is, I felt it was high time to turn the spotlight on him a bit.
I’ve said it before: I’ve been deeply blessed to have a great, stable, loving set of parents for all of my 41 years. I can only hope I’ve been as good for my kids, but as a parent, you never know these things–there’s always that nagging doubt.
My dad was an archivist before retirement. As a kid, having a parent who’s in a unique line of work can be a blessing and a curse all at the same time: on the one hand, it was great to say your dad did something that you knew no other kid in your school could claim; but on the other hand, I frequently had to explain what an archivist was. I was doing this as early as I could remember…First grade at the very least, and there’s a good possibility that I’d done it in Kindergarten too…I was that kind of kid.
Because of dad’s unique occupation and my mom’s proclivities, my upbringing was, as I suspected at the time, and as I’ve confirmed as an adult, unique. While some families might go to amusement parks or the zoo, we’d go to the library or a museum. While some families might go on a Sunday drive past a lake or to a park or something, we’d go somewhere that dad could get out the camera and stand in the middle of Main Street in some small town to get the picture of an old building for a slide show he had coming up.
I was taught how to use card catalogs and the basics of the Dewey Decimal System by the time I was in second grade. If I asked a question about how something worked or why something was the way it was, I was told to look it up. Family time on many Sunday mornings involved sitting around the living room listening to either classical music on the stereo, or one of dad’s ’50s or ’60s records while we all read the newspaper or a book or magazine.
I even went so far as to do a research report one summer that I handed in to no one other than my parents. Simply because I wanted to know how a car engine worked.
But okay then. How does this come back to celebrating my father’s birthday?
As with all things, you never realize their full value until much later in life. My dad, along with my mom, taught me how to find answers on my own. And this has helped me in so many ways, not the least of which is in my job: because I have no formal computer training–every thing’s been self-taught and learned by experience, trial-and-error, and yes, research. At work, surrounded by many “kids” (the 20-30 year-old set), I find that a computer science degree does next to nothing for them when it comes to learning how to support and troubleshoot computer problems. And learning how to properly ask the question and research it in dictionaries, yearbooks, encyclopedias, card catalogs, and other library resources gives you more skills you can use to properly ask the question in Google.
My dad helped teach me the value of knowledge. And while I’d probably disappoint him by saying I have no desire to go back to a classroom setting, I don’t want to stop learning things: I just want to do it on my terms.
My dad, for good or bad, helped me appreciate the quiet: I have three kids. My mom came from a family of seven. Dad grew up as an only child. I know it drove him crazy when my sister and I fought or yelled or stomped through the house, in much the same way that I now know it drives me crazy when my own kids just can’t be quiet for any period of time. That’s why the man cave is so appreciated.
My dad is the biggest champion I’ve ever had for my creativity. My mom wants me to write and be creative and has always supported that, so don’t get me wrong, but my dad has always been the one who presses me for story ideas I’m bouncing around in my head and keeps pushing me to write and find an agent. Someday, I will do that and make him proud.
My dad is the absolute epitome of a historian: a stickler for dates and location names and people and events. And I love that he knows all of that and shows that off when given the chance. But only later in life did I realize that while I didn’t get his love for the details, I did get his love for understanding what history is and how much it means in the grand scheme of life.
I admire him for his own artistic talent. And by that, I genuinely mean artistic talent: like drawing and painting. As someone who couldn’t draw a straight line to save my life, I admire the sheer skill in transforming a blank sheet of paper into something colorful and amazing. I’m so glad that skill has at least reappeared in the next generation after me.
He was the one to introduce me to slapstick, low-brow, simple humor, and to Masterpiece Theatre and the other high brow stuff on PBS. I’ve seen original Star Trek TV scripts thanks to him. And I’ve known how to handle and read a blueprint since I was in first grade. Hell, he even explained to me ages ago how they’re made. That’s one thing I didn’t need to research.
And while he wasn’t an athlete, or one of those dads you would expect to find at the park with his kids, he would play catch with me and talk baseball with me. And as much as he’s tried to teach me to baby a car like he does with his, that one just hasn’t caught on. Though I am trying…
This is my dad’s birthday, and I’ve been damned lucky to have him to share my life with. I know I’ve been a frustrating kid to have at times, but every time I see him, I still get a hug. That’s what it’s all about.
Happy birthday, dad. Love you!
See you tomorrow.