I inadvertently played a trick on my dad this week.
With Father’s Day approaching, out of curiosity, I send him a text that catches him a bit off guard.
“What’s the hardest thing about being a dad?”
His response, obviously, is concern.
“Are you becoming one???”
I get a laugh out of it, and once I told him that it is for a piece I am writing, he gets a laugh out of it, too.
But jokes aside, my dad, Wilbert, begins to bless me with nuggets about fatherhood that seem like common knowledge, but somehow become realer once he verbalizes them.
The first thought he shares is this: “As a father, we feel responsible for everything our family does, bad and good.”
Fathers are proud, and that doesn’t exclude my father. He’s one of those dads that will tell a stranger about the successes of his children, which includes myself and my two brothers, and his grandchildren, of which he has four in total.
I had the opportunity to serve as the student speaker at my college graduation in 2011 and that currently tops the list of his favorite stories to tell about me. It’s embarrassing for me to hear, but I know it serves the sole purpose of letting others know how proud he is of the son he raised.
The second tidbit he gives me is a bit deeper than just how to be a proud parent.
“You care about your kid’s future, and deep down, you hope they’re great. Really great. However, you know and accept that they might not be. You have to accept it. You have no choice. But you never give up on your kids, because you know you’re the last support they have.”
This one takes me for a loop.
As a child, especially being the youngest, I rarely analyzed the pressures of being a father outside of providing for your family financially. There are greater worries than money and financial stability for a father, and one of them is the idea that no matter how much you give your kid, no matter how great the private school you send them to, no matter how nice your house, there is a chance that those advantages won’t reflect in who they become long-term.
And as a parent, it’s at that point where you must decide to be disappointed in your child or accept the path they have chosen.
Growing up, I played basketball. It was my father’s dream for me make it to the NBA, the same dream shared by millions of fathers.
I played every weekend of every summer. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t have a tournament or a practice with my high school team or a training session with one of my coaches. However, consequently, that same intense schedule that made me a better player took a toll on me mentally, and after high school, with scholarship offers in hand, I decided to give up playing the game.
For years, my dad blamed himself for my decision to quit playing. He thought he pushed me too hard, and to a degree, he was right. But fact is, I didn’t love the game the way he did. Part of the reason I played was just to make him happy.
The same way he wanted to be proud of me, and was proud of me, I wanted him to be proud of me.
To this day, I’m sure he still wonders what he could have done better. Every now and then, less frequently with each passing year, he’ll go on a tangent about how good I was and what type of NBA player I would have been. My mom tells me he still watches my old tapes from high school. However, with every fiber in his body, he pushed himself move on from the game along with me, and today, he is my biggest supporter in everything I do.
That means something to me.
The third point he makes to me is one of those obvious but not-so-obvious ones.
“Dads are sounding boards. Kids learn from what they did or didn’t do.”
My dad isn’t perfect. He is the most stubborn person I know, and I know that to be a fact because he will argue with me when I tell him so. He and my mom have been together for over 40 years, and they aren’t always on the same page, let alone in the same book.
But my dad has always been there. He’s been there physically and psychologically, and that’s the greatest “did do” that I could have asked for.
I have friends whose fathers weren’t around, and it kills me to know that they had to grow up through that, to the point where I don’t like to bring up how influential my father was in my upbringing because it is something that they weren’t able to experience.
And that brings me to the last point he gives me.
“You have to give your kids the feeling that you will give your life for them.”
This feeling doesn’t just translate to a child because you’re their parent. No, it’s something you have to prove to your kid. And to count the ways my dad proved it to me would take days.
My dad was so strong that he raised another dad for me in my brother, Julio, who is 13 years my senior.
Julio was so responsible and respectable growing up that I feared getting in trouble with him as much as I did with our father, and most of that came from the lessons bestowed upon him on how to be a man by our dad. My dad told Julio what he had to do, such as get a job when he was around 15, and Julio also learned from the mistakes that my father made as a dad.
Now, Julio has three children with his wife, and I would die for every one of them.
In the end, what’s most remarkable about my dad is that he came from nothing. His father wasn’t around. His mother, barely. He came from a small town Louisiana, and created a life for himself and his family, with nothing but a hope and a prayer.
So I’ve decided that this Father’s Day, my gift to him will be a thank you. Not in the form of a card. Not in the form of a gift, some type of power tool he can use around the house.
I’ll walk up to him and say thank you.
I don’t think any other gift could mean as much.