Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Dad, The Old Man

I went to a retirement roast for my dad tonight. It made me realize that I have a lot more in common with him than I realize sometimes. I'm forgetful. I have his irreverent sense of humor. I cry too easily for a man. Half of the jokes mocking him during the roast could have been directed at me. I also was reminded of just how good a man he is.

I didn't fully appreciate my dad when I was a teenager. He was often irritable, partly from the epilepsy medication he's taken most of his life and partly because we were kids and kids are annoying, but he was a good father. My sister and I can never say that he wasn't there for us or that he didn't care. We always knew we were loved and as I gradually and begrudgingly turn into a father, I'm glad I have him as a role model for this part of my life.

Stepping into a room of a hundred people, judges, police officers, teachers, family, I realized I didn't know many people from the work part of my dad's life. Here were people he spent almost as much time with on a daily basis as he did his own family, and I was completely unaware of their existence. Usually, people have different faces they show depending on the people they're with. I'm guilty of that myself. My college friends and a select few from from my grade school years see what I think to be the truest me besides the person I am with my wife. She gets the full spectrum. My family gets a much more reserved version of myself and I'm probably pretty bland to strangers. That's not my dad. While I may not have known many of the people gathered to wish him luck in his retirement, they knew the exact same man that I did. My dad treats everyone exactly the same. He doesn't have anything to be ashamed of about his person and he's brave enough (or dumb enough) to not be so self-conscious to hide who he really is from anyone. When you meet my dad, you're meeting one of the most genuine people on Earth. If he acts like he likes you (and he will), that's exactly how he feels about you.

This may be why my dad was so good at his job. He was a juvenile probation officer until 5 p.m. Friday afternoon. He always told me that if you treated those kids, the worst kids three counties had to offer, with respect, they'll treat you with respect right back. It's because of him that I felt more successful as a teacher in an alternative school full of inner city kids coming out of lock up than I do now with classes full of normal children. I followed his lead and managed to win the trust of some of the worst kids in that school system. Of course, it makes it easier to win those kids over when you actually care about them, and my dad did. He actually enjoyed working with the kids. Since I moved home, I can't tell you how many times my students have told me that they had to talk to my dad because they were on probation and every time they mentioned him, they did so with a smile. This was the man who had to nag them about grades and curfew and court dates. The fact I'm his son has always given me a bit of an in with those kids.

I may not have known all these people who knew the same guy I call my father, but they all knew me. That's because I got my storytelling tendencies from my dad. While I focus on dookie jokes and daydreams, my dad always thought more about his family. Every person who stood up to give a speech, and there were many, were able to pick out my sister and me and refer to us by name even if they'd never met us before. My dad's family is his life. We lived all of the stories he cared about. I feel a little guilty sometimes that I don't share that same focus on my loved ones. Maybe I'd be a happier person if I did.

I do share that sensitive nature and bleeding heart of his, but I don't share his gregariousness. My sister got all of my dad's social skills. She's the one who people are drawn to, who they automatically like, just like my dad. I got my mom's introversion and more precise grasp of grammar and syntax. Watching my dad work the room after getting control of himself (he'd not suspected the surprise), my brother-in-law-to-be said my dad should have been a politician. I don't doubt he would have won any office he'd run for. He knows all the political leaders in the area. He's on good terms with everyone. He'd have judges, educators, the cops, and the crooks all on his campaign wagon. The only problem is that he would have been miserable. He wouldn't have been able to put up with the political maneuvering, the hypocritical nature of politicians, and the fakeness of it all.

That's one of the reasons that I'll never be able to live up to the standard that my dad set in his career. He never moved beyond being a low level supervisor in a governmental agency, but when he left, he had people convinced that the entire system was worse off without him.

And the whole time he just thought he was doing his job.


Julie said...

That's an amazing experience. How neat that you all got to share in it! I doubt I will ever see something similar. I don't think corporate America feels the same way about their employees.

Jacob said...

Yeah. This wasn't even organized by his employers. His secretary of 25 years and one of his first underlings (he supervised every kid on probation in three counties by himself to start with) organized this on their own. Former people in his division came as far as Atlanta for his retirement party.

courtney said...

Great post, Jacob. I would encourage you to share it with your dad if you're so inclined. I think he would be really touched by this.

Cj said...

I second that Courtney... I think that Pops will be really touched by this. You should type it up and give him the infamous Christmas letter :-)