My father was and continues to be a remarkably giving person. Whether it was long the hours he worked at his various jobs, the early Sunday mornings he drove me, my sister and my brother around on our paper route or the thousands of baseball, softball and football games and practices he attended my father was a giver. He gave until it hurt.
He often gave until it hurt us.
In fact one of my father’s favorite expressions was “Do you want me to give you something to cry about?” That was my father, the paradigm of generosity. He would see us blubbering over something he didn’t consider deserving of our swollen teary eyes, snotty runny noses, and trembling bottom lips and he would selflessly volunteer to take time from his busy schedule and peanut butter sandwiches on white bread to provide us with something worthwhile to cry about.
It may be suitable to mention at this point that my father was frequently responsible for supplying us with what we felt was an excellent reason to be crying in the first place so as you can imagine we rarely accepted his munificent follow up offer to furnish us with additional things to cry about.
When I was 10 years old, for example, I rode my bike to the mall even though my father had specifically told me not to; my beautiful 527 lb rust-brown banana seat Huffy Thunder Road forged from the hull metal of retired Russian oil tankers capable of speeds up to 13mph depending on the downhill grade of the road. My clever and flawless reasoning was that dear old dad would never find out because he was working on the railroad all the livelong day (literally, he was an Amtrak electrician) and I would easily get home before he did.
Unfortunately, when I returned to the bike rack my lock had been cut and my bike was gone. This, I thought, was something to cry about so I did. I cried when I told the security guard what had happened. I cried when the security guard called my house and my father somehow answered the phone. I cried when I saw my father pull into the parking lot, step out of the car still dressed in his work clothes and stride towards me and the security guard. Before I could apologize or explain, my father smacked me in the head and this made me cry even harder. “Do you want me to give you something to cry about?” my father asked as he signed the incident report the security guard had handed him. I was 10 years old, scared, embarrassed, my bike and only form of transportation was gone and I had just been cuffed in the ear and even then my father wanted to give me something to cry about.
We could have avoided a lot of confusion growing up if he would have given us a pocket card listing his acceptable reasons for crying. At least then when he asked us if we wanted him to give us a something to cry about we could have referenced the card first before answering.
This past week while Kathleen and I were in the kitchen loading the dishwasher, or more specifically I was loading the dishwasher and Kathleen was then rearranging the dishwasher so that instead of 3 dishes we could fit 43, Jack and Adam were playing on the floor behind us with a battery-powered Spiderman Bump & Go Dune Buggy. The toy has a motor and a spinning cylinder on the bottom that propels the toy in all directions and prevents it from getting stuck against a stationary object. Apparently though if your 4 year old son places it on the head of your 11 month old son who has hair like Art Garfunkel the hair gets twisted into the spinning cylinder which then continues to rotate and weave the hair into the gears like a textile loom until the result is a 4-wheel Spiderman banana clip. After we untangled Adam’s hair without thankfully having to resort to scissors and pulling out only a couple of his golden locks (currently taped into his baby book), I found Jack standing in the living room. Before that moment I had never even so much as spanked him, however I knelt down next to him, took his right hand in mine and tapped the back of it with two fingers.
I’ve had my hand stamped at keg parties harder than I tapped the back of his hand, yet he stared at me in utter disbelief for a second before he started crying. My initial reaction was to ask him, “Do you want me to give you something to cry about?” but I didn’t. My second reaction was to pick him up, to hold him while he cried and to talk to him about what he did wrong; which is what I did. He told me as I carried him around the dining room that he was sorry for hurting Adam and so I told him I was sorry for smacking his hand, but that sometimes Daddies have to do things they don’t want to do.
Like work three jobs, or get up at 5:00 am on your day off to drive your kids around on their paper route, or spend every spare moment of every evening and weekend in the stands, in the dugout or on the sidelines of Little League and Pop Warner games
Maybe my father worked a lot, but he was always there for us. Maybe my father didn’t spare the rod, but he also didn’t spare a hug after a difficult loss, a kiss goodnight or a hand to hold. Maybe my father would sometimes give us something to cry about, but he would always give us something to laugh about.
My father was and continues to be a remarkably giving person and though I don’t know if I have it in me to raise Jack and Adam the same way my father raised me, I’m going to try.