Wednesday, September 16, 2009

There's Always Something There to Remind Me

"You can't make a race horse of a pig. But you can make a very fast pig." -John Steinbeck

No matter how much time passes, you never get over it. Every day there's a reminder. Something small. Something big. Something happy. Something sad. You just never get over it. You move on. You live your life. You function. But you don't ever forget.

What I'm saying is I miss my dad. Every day. Somehow, some way. Every day. But it's worse during football season. It happens every year. He was a lot of things to me but perhaps above all else, he was my football friend.

A lifelong Giants fan, he started cheering for the Jets because of my impassioned, some might say 'fanatic,' allegiance to them. And he ultimately switched his own allegiance (despite the claims of many who insist the contrary). He was the one who always talked me down from a ledge before a big game. He was the one who always assured me they would win. He was the one who would always comfort me when they lost, when they broke my heart, when I blamed him for getting my hopes up. Once I got to college and beyond, our face-to-face conversations became almost daily phone calls.

I learned a lot from my dad, about my dad, by watching sports with him. I learned about his childhood, his playing days, the games he attended, the athletes he cheered for. But more important, life lessons were often passed on during these games. Context. Perspective. Reality... during a game. He played the perfect color analyst to my play-by-play man

The Jets played the Patriots this weekend (and won - holy crap!), and I really wish I could have talked to my dad about it. The big, bad, beat-us-all-the-time Patriots. I despise them. One of those in-game lessons I remember him teaching me was during Jets-Patriots in the mid-80's. Back then the Jets were usually the better team, but the Patriots always gave them a fight, often beat them when they shouldn't have, and it usually ended up costing the Jets in the long run.

This particular game, there was an injury to one of the Patriots better players. And I cheered. "Good," I said. "Now the Jets will win." My father quickly corrected me. He told me it's not right to cheer when people get hurt. "That guy's a dad and a husband like me and a son and a grandson like you," he said. "Besides, don't you want to beat them with their best players?" And to this day, I remember that.

Whenever someone gets injured, I cringe if I hear someone in the stands cheer. I think of what my dad taught me. Often I joke about wishing harm to players or teams that I don't like. Then I feel guilty because shortly thereafter I'll flashback to that scene in our family room, circa 1985. Often in fantasy football, it's fortuitous for you if one of your opponents' better players gets injured. I grapple with whether or not this truly is a turn of events that should be celebrated.

So it makes me think... What will Penelope learn? What will she take away? I know she hears me, but is she listening?

Some of it may not sink in. Some of it she may ignore or disagree with. All I can hope for is that some of it, most of it, sticks.

My father was not perfect by any means. He was irrational, stubborn, hot-headed. Sound familiar?

And I didn't always agree, always listen, always learn, at least the way he intended.

While I admire his faith, I question his religion every day.

While he worked hard, he could have been better at saving money.

While he provided for us, cared for us as best he could, he did not take the best care of himself. And that ultimately killed him.

What I'm learning on my journey of fatherhood is that we continue to learn a lot from our fathers, from our parents. No matter how old we get. No matter if they're here or not. No matter if they intended or not. I'm also learning that parents - fathers - do the best they can. And we should give them a break, give ourselves a break.

I believe one of the first things we say, we think, when we learn we are going to be parents is to correct what we believe our own parents did wrong. "I'm going to do this differently," we say. I'm adamant about speaking to my daughter in proper English (and just yesterday she told me she's 'not feeling too well.') I'm anal about what she eats (I was a fat kid). We don't raise our voices and never hit.

Well, instead of thinking our parents were wrong, we should realize that maybe they didn't know any better. That they were playing the hand they were dealt, and doing better than their parents did. We're always evolving as parents. Eventually, somewhere down the line deep into the future, maybe there will be perfect uber-parents with perfect children.

What will Penelope take with her? What will sink in? What will she ignore? What will she want to correct, do better?

I won't care if she's a Jets fan. Honestly. I care more about if she's listening to the things I'm telling her before, during, and after the game. The life lessons that will shape the girl, young woman, wife, mother she will become. The grandchildren who will - God willing - become of her.

That's the legacy I'd want to leave. That's the legacy I think my dad left.

I miss him, even though he's with me every day. As much as I want to talk to him about Sunday's game, I want so much more to ask him about just being a dad to Penelope.

Oh, and he got to see the Jets win a Super Bowl in his lifetime. One of those would be nice for us, too.
**Two weeks before Penelope's birth, I reflected on becoming a father without my father. You can read that post by clicking here: http://penelopemannato.blogspot.com/2007/02/help-from-above.html

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