On Being a Better Dad Than I Had
I didn’t have my pops around growing up. That’s why I’m doing it differently.
Yesterday, it hit me again how I have probably spent more time with my son in a day than my father shared with me in his lifetime. And the thought came to me thanks to a very simple act: I took my son to shop for boots for the first time.
Not a big deal, but it made me flash back to when my father took me shopping for boots years before. I was maybe 12 years old, and my mother — a single parent of six kids — had complained to my uncle that I was “acting mannish.” I had started talking back a little more than my mother liked, and following her instructions a little slower than she’d wanted. I’d stopped mumbling under my breath and started questioning her decisions out loud. I was the oldest of six from a total of four different fathers, but somehow became the “man of the house,” and resented it.
I had also recently announced that, although I could not stop her from whipping me with switches from the scrub trees that grew between our house and the corner gas station on the far South Side of Chicago, I would no longer be cutting them myself. Providing the means to whip my own ass had just become too much.
My uncle promptly declared me to be “smelling myself,” and offered to let me stay with him for the summer. Maybe he was right, but I was also just getting older, and he wanted someone to help him complete a painting contract for a small apartment building. I was old enough to help, but I just needed a few pieces of gear.
It wasn’t a conversation of any real importance. I imparted no great truths. I was just a father sitting in the car with his son, telling lame jokes to make his son laugh. And yet, what else is there?
So my mother reached out to my father — a good family man, just for another family down the street — to buy me what I needed to work with my uncle. That included steel-toed work boots. Usually, I’d see my father every few months when he’d drop by with a hundred dollars or so for my mother. For me, I guess. These drop-offs usually lasted five or 10 minutes, with him and I…