The frame to the left was my birthday gift for my dad on his 54th birthday. I sneaked photos from our vacations and dinners together from his computer and made it into a collage. Then I biked three miles to Walmart to get it printed and framed. He told me it was the best gift that I’ve given him in the past fifteen years.
To be honest, I didn’t put that much effort into it. I didn’t write him a personal note to go along with the frame. I didn’t even take all the pictures that were in that collage. I wouldn’t know what to write in the note if I wanted to. I don’t know if he hasn’t been a great father or I’ve just been a distant son, but I don’t remember actually learning anything valuable from him. It’s always been “bumper sticker wisdom” from him.
When I think about my own father, I think about Polonius and Laertes in Hamlet. I can remember my dad giving me the same lecture that Polonius gave Laertes: always behave yourself, listen more than you speak, don’t get into fights, etc. We were in our hotel room in Geneva and I was about to travel away too – only ten yards from the lobby to the market for groceries. In fact, it was nearly the same advice every time we arrived at a new city – “Don’t get too close to that fountain, Tue” or “Make sure your wallet is in your front pocket. There are pickpockets everywhere.”
Maybe I’m just commenting on his nagging, but being at home is a different story. On certain nights we have dinner, especially more expensive dinners, there would be a designated moment while we’re eating (even my sister can predict when it’s coming) when my dad will tell us how lucky we are. It was preceded by a bit of his background in Vietnam where his family couldn’t afford to eat meat everyday (and yes, each time) and ended with telling me and my sister to get good grades and test scores. And on some nights, to stay home and do homework while our friends are out partying because that’s how we’ll know we’ll become more successful than them. When I was younger, I used to think there was a big book of aphorisms he stashed somewhere and he would just read a different one to us each day. Now, I think it’s just annoying.
And where are the games of catch in the backyard on the weekends? When are we going to watch a basketball game on the same sofa? When do we get to finish that birdhouse that is still sitting incomplete and dusty in the garage? I really don’t know, and that’s the problem.
The blame isn’t totally on him, however. I really should’ve told him that he needed to sit down with me during the Super Bowl last year or that he should’ve read me stories on the bedside when I was eight. Never once did I tell him directly, and so now I’m left asking myself what if.
I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t follow your dad’s advice, or that you should. I personally don’t, but then again, I have regrets. If there’s anything my dad taught me, without actually teaching me, it’s that dads don’t know everything when they think they do. Even if they do know a little something, it’s better for you to go figure it out yourself anyways.