For a few months now I have been cooking up an idea for a screen play. I have been jotting down notes and making a general story board. A lot of things are still in question, a lot of characters are still in the making, but one character is not.
My dad. I don’t have to add anything or change anything for him to be the perfectly interesting, unusual, comical character. He does odd things like he has an obsession with baby powder and he eats canned cherries because he is convinced that they make his arthritis better. He has so many fish tanks in the house that Mom had to cut him off for fear people might mistake their ranch home for the local pet store!
“Jolly” is a word I often hear used to describe him. Dad has never met a stranger in his life- a great trait he passed on to my brother, Aaron. Wherever Dad goes he makes friends and people are just oh-so-willing to tell him their whole life story. I don’t think he has ever gotten off of a plane or out of grocery store or even the elevator without making a new friend. Dad loves people, especially obviously broken ones. He has spent his life working at unglamorous jobs where he’s counseled and mentored teenagers no one else can make time for and worked to make the lives of limited adults (that other’s don’t even want to be seen with) just a little better.
Sometimes because he’s my dad, I forget what an honorable man he is.
We had about 8 hours in the car together yesterday to talk (well, at least the parts when Cohen wasn’t screaming to let us know how utterly disgusted he is the with the idea of being restrained). He talked a lot about his workplace, which right now is very frustrating. He’s at a high level of management and can’t stand that the CEO spends hundreds of thousands of dollars flying across the country for dinner when his workers are barely making enough money to afford the gas to get to work. He recounted a myriad of times in meetings when he was standing up to the status quo, and consequently isn’t well liked. I listened, and it occurred to me that if Denzel Washington was doing the same thing- standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves- on the silver screen that he would be (rightly) touted a hero.
And even though no cameras are following him around and he’s balding and he can’t ever tell a joke without messing up the punchline and cracking himself up, my dad is every bit the modern day hero.
My dad didn’t have the kind of childhood he deserved. Its not the kind of thing I could publish onto the World Wide Web since its not my story to tell, but suffice it to say it wasn’t pleasant.
My dad went back to college when I was about 7. He had 2 kids, was managing a group home for troubled teens full time, and he went back to college and graduated with the second highest grade point average in his class. He even got to give a speech. He used to take Aaron and I with him to college and let us “take notes” and hang out with him on campus while he studied. You know what? A lot of dads wouldn’t have done that. I mean its one thing to be an “adult student” and another to be an adult student who lets his kids tag along at the University.
My dad isn’t a people-pleaser. He doesn’t make decisions based on the politics of his environment. He doesn’t take the easier course of action unless its also the right course (which isn’t often, as we all know) . He doesn’t favor the attractive people or the smarter people or the ones who can benefit him in some way. My dad likes eating lunch with a group of guys not unlike the group of friends from I Am Sam.
I learned a lot about my dad last night as he shared about his life and how he has survived it. It was a rare time between us, probably brought on by the moodiness of the storm outside the car and the tiredness inside it.
I left it feeling even more proud of him…even more proud to be his daughter. You know what? My parents aren’t rich and their lives are complicated and mostly made up of years of selflessness and sacrifice. They won’t ever probably retire, and they’ll be the age of a lot of grandparents when Josh finally graduates into adulthood. My brother Matt will never live completely independently of them and that was a choice they knew they made when they adopted him. So they won’t have a lot of the toys and freedoms that other people will experience in the latter half of their lives…
But you know what they do have? What my dad does have? Seven children who think he hung the moon. Seven children who admire him, aspire to be like him, pray that we got some of those uncommon traits of loyalty and compassion. Four sons whose lives he literally saved by taking them in and giving up his own convenient living. He has seven kids who get a kick out of his quirkiness and who just like being in his presence. He has seven kids who are proud to carry on the legacy that he began for this family…
I love you dad. You will always be our hero.