Today is what would have been my dad’s 74th birthday. He passed away only a day before his 70th. Because his health steadily declined, we had many opportunities to say our goodbyes, but we never did. He taught me a lot of things: how to hit a golf ball, how to change the oil on my car, how to stay “stupid” in spanish (that’s a whole story in itself), and how to swear at broken plumbing. However, we never talked about emotions or how we felt about things. I didn’t realize that I needed those discussions until he was gone. I think we both wanted to hear an “I love you” from one another, but our quiet understanding would have to suffice – such an asian thing. His “thank you” after every hospital visit strangely sustained me only because it was one of those rare sincere moments of connection that we had.
When my dad was really sick, every phone call from my mom put me on edge. Usually it was just to check up on me or to tell me that Dad is in the hospital again for one thing or another. Every time the phone would ring, I thought “This is the one. This is it,” and every time I breathed a sigh of relief when it wasn’t. One night that sigh never came. My mom told me to drive up to the hospital because my dad was in really bad shape. I tried to get more details, but she wouldn’t say more to me than to just hurry. When I got there It took me a couple seconds to realize he no longer had anything hooked up to him. There were no more machines humming and beeping around him. There was an eerie quiet like the first few seconds after you turn a vacuum cleaner off and all you notice is silence before the ambient sounds come rushing back into your ears. After my initial meltdown, I composed myself (although just barely) and stood there holding his hand and touching his forehead. He was still a little warm and I just tried to hold onto that warmth until it was gone.
I cried for my dad that morning at the hospital, I cried for him that night in bed as my girlfriend (now wife) could only comfort me as I fell apart like I never had in my life, and then I never allowed myself to cry about it again. The funeral came and went, I saw the tears and heard the sobs of loved ones, but I never cried through any of that. I somehow thought you get all the cry out like Clive Owen in Children of Men and then you’re done. For the most part, that worked, but every once in a while I would come close whenever some emotional scene about fathers and sons came up on TV or in a movie (damn you, Dear John!)
The warmth that I felt fade returned two and a half years later when Dylan was born. Needless to say, the birth of your first child is a very emotional moment. Even then, I was trying to be what I thought a father should be – which is to be more of a tearless rock – caring and loving, but not too emotional. You are what you learn from your parents, and that’s what I learned from my dad. However, I was doing such a terrible job of holding it in that I might as well have let it all out.
I now have a shared experience of fatherhood with my dad and the connection between us that laid dormant has restarted. As my wife and I went through the things that new parents go through (no sleep, poop, spit up, stepping on toys, more poop, more no sleep), my dad would remain fresh in my mind. I wondered how he felt about being a dad. I’m sure he would’ve had plenty to tell me if he were still alive. I have so many questions, but I’m going to have to answer them myself.
I’ve only been a dad for 15 months, so there are still many more years of learning. I have so many fond memories of father/son time growing up – watching planes land at LAX before picking up my mom from work, going to the driving range and being excited not because of the golf, but because of the fries and soda we would share at the snack bar after we were done. I hope I can provide those same kinds of memories for Dylan. I’m far from the perfect dad, one thing I know I will do differently is to make sure Dylan knows it’s okay to say “I love you” to Dad and that Dad will say it back. It will be some time before he learns to say it, but when he does, I’m pretty sure I will cry.