Father’s day is tomorrow, and for most of my life, it’s been kind of a rough time in terms of Hallmark holidays.
My mom raised me, and my dad had always been out of the picture. Like, completely. We never had any kind of interaction. No phone calls, no weekend trips. I didn’t actually know his name until I was a teenager, simply because it wasn’t a thing I felt like dealing with. If you’re an only child, you don’t give a name to your non-existent sister, and I didn’t really see much of a reason to give a name to an absent parent.
I know a lot of kids grow up with distant memories of a father who later disappeared, or dealt with one who made special guest appearances periodically. I’ve always been thankful this wasn’t the case for me. “It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” isn’t always true. I always preferred the more surgical, “rip the Band-Aid really fast and it won’t hurt as much” approach.
About five and a half years ago, I had a particularly sleepless night that only became more sleepless as my mind wandered to the ever-soothing topic of mortality. It occurred to me that unless she became a robot, a vampire, or a Highlander, my mom probably wasn’t going to live forever, and that there was a lot of stuff I should probably ask her. Like I said, this was a particularly morbid bout of anxiety-drizzled insomnia.
Sometime in the week that followed, I finally got around to asking my mom about my dad. I’d actually put it off a few times, and had to write a note on my hand that said “ASK MOM ABOUT DAD.”
We sat down at the kitchen table and she regaled me with my origin story. I don’t know if normal kids have this kind of conversations with their parents. Presumably, if your parents are married, and they raise you together, you grow into the tacit understanding that they bang out on the regs, or at least used to, and that’s why you’re around. Oh, shit. Did I just bring up your parents banging? Sorry.
The story of why I’m a person is long and convoluted and filled with grief and romance, and I wasn’t exactly there for any of it, so it’s not quite my story to tell. As Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”
Anyway, it’s a strange sensation when the mental picture of “dad” that’s been left intentionally blank for two decades suddenly begins to take shape, and this “dad” character begins to seem like an actual person. It’s like waking up one morning to find that someone’s placed a large wooden tobacco store Indian in your bedroom, except instead of your bedroom, it’s your brain. That’s really the only way I can describe it.
So, after my mom told me a handful of facts about my father, I did what any normal twenty-something would do in the 21st century: I Googled him.
The first photograph I ever saw of my father was on Amazon.com. My cyber-sleuthing had led me to a book that he’d been contributed to, and Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature allowed me to see a tiny headshot of him on the back inside cover.
Several months later, I wound up meeting the guy. Originally, I’d wanted to track him down like a detective with my friend Sam, because at the time, one of our favorite things to do was put on suits and pretend to be detectives. Probably for the best, that fell through, and I wound up driving down with my girlfriend at the time. She insisted that I get in touch with my dad beforehand, instead of just showing up. I reluctantly agreed to this, and even though I’d found his home phone number, I still called up the restaurant he owns first. Because I wanted to be a detective. They said he wasn’t there, and no, they wouldn’t give me his personal number.
I’m a terrible detective.
When I called his home number, I got his voicemail. Which was anticlimactic, but almost a relief. I wound up leaving the most casual, nonchalant I’ve ever left. I literally said, “Hey, this is Max, Sally’s kid. I’m gonna be down in your area, was wondering if you wanted to do lunch, I figure we should catch up.”
He called back the next morning while I was in the shower, and left an equally laid back voicemail saying that yes, we should absolutely do lunch, and he’d been hoping I might call someday. I have never been happier about a voicemail in my entire life.
A few days later, I met my dad. He asked me “Are you as nervous about this as I am?” and I said yes, and he said “do you want a beer?” and I said yes. We stared at each other for a second, and realized we look like the same guy, and then we hugged.
We sat on my [now] stepmom’s patio in Marina Del Rey and drank Pacifico and I chain-smoked because I was nervous and because I didn’t [yet] know that my dad hates smoking. We talked about a bunch of random stuff, I don’t even remember what. When you’ve got twenty years of questions piled up, you wind up talking about machine guns and Lawrence Of Arabia.
Most educated people will nod in agreement that genetics are fascinating, and that someone can be descended from someone else, and share weird similar traits, but I really don’t think anyone fully grasps exactly how batshit insane genetics are. My dad and I make the same jokes. Like, we’ve jinxed each other while making the same terrible pun, and saying it in the same stupid voice.
I met my dad for the first time almost five years ago. I saw him last weekend. We’ve spent a pile of Thanksgivings and Christmasses together. We’ve more or less made up for lost time, and I think we get each other. The other day he emailed me an article about a Mountain Dew truck flipping over with the subject “I’m sorry for your loss.”
I don’t hold a grudge against my dad for not being around. He had his reasons, and for what it’s worth, I’m happy things turned out the way they did. Builds character, I guess.
I realize I’ve been cartoonishly lucky to have such a fairy tale situation take place. I know there’s a lot of people out there who never meet their dads, and sometimes, when they do, their dads turn out to be dicks. I know a lot of people grow up with their dads in the picture, and their dads are still dicks. I’m just really grateful to have wound up with a dad who’s not a dick.
Happy father’s day, guys.