The local kids were playing soccer. My son James and his cousin were watching as I stood nearby. The cousin started discussing the many sports his dad had played in high school: soccer, hockey, golf – and good at them all. He wasn’t bragging, just listing.
The cousin finished. James didn’t say anything.
“I was in band,” I offered.
What I didn’t say was that I was first clarinet, and let me tell you there was some stiff competition for that position! Nor did I mention that I played Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest and Berowne in Love’s Labours Lost, because this is not the sort of thing you discuss at a soccer game.
I doubt that my children look at me and say to themselves, “I wish Dad were more of a jock,” because it’s like wishing our cats could meow in three-part harmony; it’s just not going to happen, so what’s the point? But I imagine they realized early on that I was not so much Eye of the Tiger as Lip of the Lemur.
My own revelation came when I was about seven years old. I was in the back seat of the car, driving through rural nowhere. Dad pulled into a strange driveway and got out of the car to drop something off. He jogged up to the house, half lope, half hop, and I clearly remember thinking to myself, “My dad runs funny.”
It’s not as though I had to worry about him embarrassing me by running in public. Dad wasn’t (isn’t) a runner. Strider maybe, stroller for sure, but not a runner. A calmly approaching assemblage of bones and angles constructed through the lucky genetics of high metabolism, God bless him. Certainly not someone you’d look at and imagine having trophies of past glories tucked in the attic. Unless they were math trophies…
But this certainly doesn’t make him any less of a father. And I’m not just saying that because I inherited his legs.
Somewhere along the way, “fatherhood” has become synonymous with “manhood,” or rather “MANHOOD,” with all its trappings of physical strength and alpha maleness. But fatherhood isn’t knowing how to throw a football with a perfect spiral every time. It’s knowing how to teach your child to throw the football. And I’m not just saying that because I know how to throw a football with a perfect spiral 13 percent of the time.
How many kids, for instance, can say their fathers taught them to play violin? I can. And how many did so while the family poodle, barricaded in the kitchen, howled in musical agony? Me again. And when I imagine the dozens of children my father taught, and the painful beginner renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle” that filled our living room, I admire my father all the more for his patience. And I certainly empathize with the dog.
Did I say patience? My father led the St. James United Church Junior Choir for years, teaching me and other brats too numerous to mention a sufficient level of choral skills to fool the Sunday congregation into thinking we were actually angelic. Why my father wasn’t a heavy drinker is beyond me.
He also taught me a love and appreciation for acting through his countless roles in community theatre, including, at age 50, the romantic male lead in The Mikado opposite a female lead half his age. My reaction, at age 15, was somewhere between “Whoa! Dude!” and “Ew! Dad!”
My father taught me about keeping my cool and being open-minded. He taught me to make a kick-ass western sandwich. He taught me that it was okay to laugh at the smutty innuendo on “Three’s Company.” He may never have taught me how to skate backwards, but he did teach me how to drive, and that’s a way more practical way to get around.
I don’t know for sure whether I’ve taught my children anything. It’s not something we talk about. (One thing my dad never taught me was how to have a heart-to-heart.) But this past winter, I was about to drive Abby to school when she announced she had forgotten her snow pants. I jumped out of the car and ran back into the house, grabbed the pants and slid back behind the wheel.
“What?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“I hate to say it, but you run like a girl.”
Well, I did teach her to be honest.