By Todd Craig
That’s a pretty heavy word with powerful connotations at its every utterance. When I was a socially awkward kid growing up, fatherhood meant finding a way to both meet my father’s expectations and balance them with the reality of being a very different person from most of those expectations, primarily with my being gay.
Let me be clear, however, that my father and I have a great relationship, one that’s evolved past my failed attempts at hitting a baseball, the arguments of adolescence, my inability to grasp algebra, and my predilection for kissing guys.
So how would I go about describing my father? Well, he’s an amazing personality. He was born and raised, like myself, in South Dakota. He’s first and foremost an engineer; he’s even an engineer who’s the son of an engineer. The math, science, logic, and schematics of the profession define his very essence and give a structure and stability to his soul that many long for.
But to say that his profession defines my father would be nothing less than a disservice.
So my father is an engineer and competitor, but still, those two labels fall short of defining him. My father inherited his thick, strong frame from my Irish grandmother. He was an athlete from the get go, which helped him succeed in both social and academic endeavors as he grew up. I’ve heard enough stories from his army buddies and college reunions to know that he was well-liked and popular throughout his life. In fact, my father, for all of his freakish math and science understanding, is nothing like a character from The Big Bang Theory. He’s an innately social creature, a people person capable of striking up a conversation with anyone about any topic. He loves sharing a cold beer with his golfing buddies and loves to “hold court” with anyone who will listen to his endless supply of stories and ribald humor.
True story about my father #1: The first boy I ever brought home to meet my parents was the boy who ended up being my husband. I was 32, and my husband-to-be was 20 at the time. I was insanely worried about how they would react. You see, my husband sashays into a room. He rocks a Coach bag, pedicured toes, and enough attitude to beat the Queen of England into submission. My parents gave him a fair chance though, and when my father saddled up to my husband and said, “We have a city councilman who just had that surgery to become a woman,” even as my eyes rolled, I knew that the conversation had begun, and that we’d all be all right as a family.
My father probably deserved a son carved from his mold. He deserved a son who was athletic so that he could coach him about hitting a baseball and cheer him on as he broke tackles at the homecoming game. He deserved a son for whom math and science came easily so that he could explain all of the ins and outs of engineering school. He deserved a son who was as comfortable in social situations as he was so that he could take him out for a beer and introduce him to his friends at the golf course.
But instead, he got me. Where my father’s body was compact and athletic, my body looked like it was built for reading X-Men comic books. And unlike my father’s natural ability to connect with anyone, this queer, bookish, liberal arts major certainly never held onto any amount of social swagger. Growing up, I shared little in common with Dad. Where his world consisted of numbers and designs, mine filled with books and poetry. Where he was social and outgoing, I was painfully shy and withdrawn. Where he appreciated beautiful women, his son ended up gay.
Despite all of these hurdles to overcome, maybe it’s a testament to my father that he still tried. He never gave up on me, and he found ways that we soon could bond. He taught me how to swing a golf club, and even though I never demonstrated any athletic prowess, we watched countless hours of sports together. Some, like my Denver Broncos, I grew to enjoy as passionately as he did.
True story about my father #2: Shortly after the reception to our wedding began to wind down, the guests all gathered in our honeymoon suite to continue with the beverages and merriment. There sat my father “holding court” again at the front of the table, regaling my Boulder lesbians about how even though the election had already been called for Kennedy how he went out and voted for Nixon anyway because he’d be goddamned if he ever voted for a Democrat. It would have been awkward talking politics anywhere else, but not for my old man. He’s always stood for what he believed in.
Every spring, because of my father’s influence, I watch The Masters golf tournament. And when they play clips of Jack Nicklaus’ final major victory from 1986 as they do every year, I remember watching it live with my dad who jumped out of his La-Z-Boy recliner when Nicklaus holed his putt at the par 3 17th to take command of the tournament at age 46. It was a moment of greatness in the game of golf, but more importantly a moment of greatness for fathers and sons watching together everywhere as my dad and I were. You see, Nicklaus has eschewed a professional caddie that day. Instead his son, Jackie, carried his father’s clubs and walked side-by-side with his dad on that day of his greatest win ever.
Looking back, my father has instilled a number of qualities in me that I couldn’t shake even if I wanted to. He taught me how to work hard. He taught me how to enjoy sports, even though my aptitude for playing them never really existed. He taught me the importance of family and friends. He taught me that if you’re not ten minutes early, you’re fifteen minutes late. He taught me to eat dinner at 5:00, feel free to be stubborn when you’re convinced that you’re right, and to keep cool under pressure.
True story about my father #3: My father voted for Obama in the last election. The Republican party, for whom my father so steadfastly supported all of his life, lost him with their arcane social policies, their backwards thinking on health care, and their lack of sane candidates.
Now all of the lessons passed my father to me are inherently priceless. They formed me. They continue to shape who I am as I’ve advanced throughout adulthood. And five years ago, they became the foundation of something far more important.
You see, that’s when my husband and I became fathers with the adoption of our infant son, and when I was given the task of trying to be a dad to a little boy of my own.
And it has occurred to me on a near daily basis that I have a pretty huge legacy to live up to when it comes to being a dad.