After we washed up, we went upstairs because he had some computer questions for me. First off, computers and my father do not get along. It's like he emits some sort of anti-energy that just makes electronics do bad things to good people. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I've fixed his computer many, many times over the years, from DOS 5.0 on up. I think the worst stretch was probably Windows Me. That OS was such a steaming pile of crap I finally told him that unless he let me upgrade him to XP, I wasn't going to work on it anymore.
Anyway, that's all in the past. Now he has a newer Dell, a flatscreen monitor, and a CPU that more than meets his needs. There hasn't been much in the way of computer support lately other than a question here and there about getting pictures in and out of the thing. He has three grand-kids now and they keep him pretty busy taking pictures. So I sat down and flipped the power on and waited for his machine to boot while he went and changed his clothes.
Here's where the story gets interesting. There was a folded piece of paper on the desk, and I picked it up. It had two things written on it, and they were:
My father had finally found my blog. I'm not sure exactly why I feared this, but I wanted to immediately kill the person who told him about it. I wasn't sure if he had already read it, or if he was just planning to check it out and hadn't gotten around to it yet. When and if he did, the next domino that would fall is that he would find out I wrote a book. You're probably wondering why I never told him I had written a book, or that I write a blog. I'll get to that in a bit, if you're still reading by then. (I have no idea where I'm going with this post, just so you know.)
I had a very strange reaction to this news. I immediately felt like I was 10 years old again, and in the dog house, waiting for my dad to get home from work. Like I had done something wrong, which is an odd reaction to have about something I've put so much time and effort into over the years. Even now, this entire chain of events mystifies me, and I've spent the last few days trying to figure it all out, because intellectually, I find it patently ridiculous, but there's this little kid part of me that still doesn't want him to read it.
I've been trying to figure out what this says about our relationship, given that I'm not living in his basement and delivering pizzas part-time or anything. I mean, I'm a responsible, modestly successful adult with a decent job, a lovely wife and a nice house in the woods, right? So why the hell would I care if he read my blog or my book? After thinking about this for a while, I've come to the conclusion that it's because my father is a lot of things that I'm not.
My father has always been my biggest inspiration. He's done some amazing things in his life, and I've always held him up as an example of how to be a good man, a good husband and a good father. He joined General Electric when he was fresh out of high school, and was accepted into a sort of work-study program they offered at the time. You'd work during the day as an apprentice, and they would pay for you to take college courses at night. Their goal was to turn you into an electrical engineer or something else they could use. If you didn't do well in class, all bets were off and you were out. My grandfather didn't have the money to send my father to college, so this was his only way to get there, and he was determined. He worked his ass off and made it through, and he and my mother were married shortly thereafter.
Our childhood seriously couldn't have been better, and I'm thankful every day for the fantastic memories he's provided me, and the sacrifices he's made throughout his life to make our lives easier. He and my mother raised four children to adulthood, and I really couldn't ask for a more involved father, or a better role model, when it comes to that. And therein lies the rub, I think. Sometimes, his expectations (or my perception of them, at least) can be hard to live up to.
First, let me tell you a little bit more about my dad:
1. Staunch Roman Catholic
2. Right wing conservative
3. Thinks most TV sitcoms are offensive
4. Thinks all R-rated movies are trash
5. G-rated sense of humor
6. Strict moral philosophy
So you can see where we might be at odds a little bit. For instance, I don't personally think that R-rated movies and raunchy sitcoms are going to cause the end of civilization as we know it. (I think it's probably going to be China, and reality TV, if you care.) I've been writing this blog since 2005, and I'm not above going for the easy laughs, as you are all probably aware. Basically, any absurdities I see that make me crack a smile, or anything that makes me wonder if we're all insane will usually end up here. To me, these pages are a harmless diversion that allow me to vent with some degree of anonymity about the crap I see every day. I think my reaction to finding the address of my blog written down on a piece of paper on my dad's desk was mostly related to the above list.
Do I sometimes say things in my blog that might not be appropriate in polite company? Check.
Do I write some stuff my father wouldn't find funny in the slightest? Double Check.
Do I write some stuff he might find morally offensive? Check. Check. Check.
I think each of us contain multitudes -- we are different people to our friends, spouses, co-workers and parents; our personalities and behavior somewhat depend upon the moment in time we find ourselves in. Like the parent of a toddler who curbs their use of crude language when the child is within earshot, or the feigned politeness we show to the cop who pulls us over, we vary our behavior -- in effect, who we are at that very moment -- to fit our current situation.
Take, for instance, the father-son dynamic. I believe the framework of this relationship is built when you are fairly young -- and good or bad, it continues to exist at some level, unchanging, regardless of how old you both become. I will always be my father's son, and as a result, that fact transforms me to some extent. I will always be the kid, he will always be the parent. I modify my behavior in an effort to fit into this particular version of me that I think he expects to see. For instance, I very rarely swear* when I am around him, and I only share humorous stories if they are solidly G-rated. I basically become Opie Taylor from Mayberry, and that's how it's always been. My brothers and my sister do it too. Hell, maybe everyone does the same thing around their parents and I just never realized it.
On the other hand, there's always the possibility that it's not what he expects. I don't know. Maybe he wouldn't give two shits if I made a off-color joke or dropped an f-bomb in conversation. I'm not really sure, to be honest. When the four of us were growing up, we very rarely subjected to physical discipline. An occasional, well-placed spanking wasn't out of the question, but mostly it was the sternly uttered words, "I'm really disappointed in you" that really caused us to feel remorse for whatever we had done.
So I think my initial reaction was nothing more than the deep-seated, subconscious echo of a dorky 10-year-old kid desperately scared of disappointing his old man. Interestingly enough, however, knowing that on an intellectual level doesn't necessarily make the feeling go away. My father is the kind of person who makes you want to strive to be a better man, which is an amazing trait to have, however I think the problem is we don't always agree on what constitutes "better." And I think I'm finally OK with that, and I hope he is too.
I remember one time when I was in college, I was doing a series of cartoons for the school paper. One of the characters was named Joshua Stone, and he had a tall basketball playing roommate named Sky, and the joke was that Josh had recurring flashbacks and for some reason, Sky could see them. I put Dr Ruth's face on a spider's body once. (Trust me, it was hilarious.) Anyway, my father came and talked to me about it one night, concerned that the cartoons I had been drawing were becoming drug-related. I assured him that I was not, in fact, taking drugs, and that I was just drawing a stupid cartoon for the paper, and I understood that he probably didn't find it funny. Also, as you can probably guess, that was my last cartoon for the paper. Intentionally or not, our conversation had sucked the fun out of it for me, and made me believe that perhaps it wasn't the best use of my time. I've always kind of regretted giving that up so easily.
That was then, and this is now. So, my father knows about my blog, and I assume he also knows about my book. For all I know, he's already read it just never said anything. So the big questions become these: (1) Am I going to continue to write this blog, and (2) Will I write differently, censoring myself, always with the potential audience of my father in the back of my mind?
The answers are "Yes, I will continue as long as I find it fun," and "No, not if I can help it." I'm pretty solidly me, and I guess at this point, he has probably accepted (if not always approved of) all aspects of the person I've become. He did his best, and I think we're both pretty confident that I turned out OK. (For the most part, anyway.) Besides, I figure it's always his prerogative to simply stop reading if he doesn't enjoy my particular brand of humor. Maybe I'll even give him a copy of my book for Christmas.
I'm just hoping he doesn't ground me.
*I've often wondered about this mystical power that we give words. Who decides the relative order of crudeness? What makes "shit" worse than "crap" and "crap" worse than "poop" and "poop" worse than "feces?" It's really funny when you think about it. As far as I can tell, it's all the same shit. Different day, perhaps, but still....