“Let the midnight special shine a light on me. Let the midnight special, shine her-ever lovin’ light on me.
– Midnight Special,” Credence Clearwater Revival (1969) [Original words, Howard Odum, 1905]
It’s crazy now, but for so long I wanted the words to be false.
I looked for the errors, spent more time obsessed with the inconsistency in the story than realizing that the story was the fucking gift.
Details are unimportant; accuracy is a sliding scale.
Why would you doubt the man you love? The man who made you who you are? Why would you hold that person to the highest critique?
But I did.
And, dad, I’m sorry.
I’m an ass.
Or all of the above.
I’m the jerk.
And I want to tell you now.
I love you.
And, I’m sorry for being such a pain in the ass.
(But while we’re at it, lay off the New York Times.)
* * *
I can’t quite say when this feeling overwhelmed me.
Maybe it was when dad got the details right on MS-13 in the kitchen last Sunday and a I realized I knew shit.
Maybe that was the impetus.
Maybe it was there all along.
Why do sons compete with their fathers? To be right? To one up? To win the microbattle?
Nonetheless, it hit me like bricks.
I was sitting there with my brother in law, Andy.
He was telling me, many beers deep, he loved my mother, he loved my father.
“They bring everyone together,” he said, in front of a riverfront fire in Lake Placid, New York. “They make this whole family thing happen. They do so much for us. They love us.”
I sat, listening, the ungrateful bitch. Realizing, in no short order: I was the ungrateful bitch.
“I fucking love your parents,” he said.
I did, too. But I hadn’t expressed it in a long time.
* * *
The first – and only – time I went to Alcoholics Anonymous, I was full of anger.
That was 2005. I lasted eight months.
But it was the eight months I needed.
No childhood is perfect.
Pick apart any upbringing, and there are sure to be things you rage against.
Mine were not the kinds of things my children will ever see – I made sure of that – but they were not unforgivable. And they were not consequential.
What I actually left AA with was a sense that I didn’t belong; that the stories my alcohol-challenged compatriots shared were so far removed from the petty shit I blamed my dad on that I didn’t belong there.
Not being able to sleep over a friends’ house, even if he’s moving away for good, does not compare to beating the shit out of your mom and sister and giving you $5 to get a god-damn pack of smokes, “or else.”
My anger was mostly about someone trying to teach me what is right.
About how to live so people don’t think you’re an arrogant prick.
About how to be decent.
Maybe some children, some adults, would see that clearly.
But what if you’re 42 and you think you’re the shit?
How clear can you see that lesson?
Not so well.
* * *
Here’s the rub …
I’m finally accepting: I’m crap.
But not anything all that special, either.
Special like you, for sure. But not above you. Not below you.
Just right there with you.
A paycheck. A dad. A husband.
And a really, really, really flawed one at that.
With people that guard me, and protect me and know all of my horrible flaws.
And for some reason, don’t sell me down the river. I love those people for that – and so much more.
* * *
There’s no easy way to say this paragraph declares I’m stable.
I simply wanted to state that I was wrong for holding my father (and mother) to a higher standard than I hold myself.
It turns out: Mom and Dad are great, educated conversationalists.
And if I could get out of my own fucking way, I would talk with them with the same accepting mentality I approach a victim in “journalism mode.”
I’ve been horrible.
So fucking horrible.
So, mom, dad, take it in: I love you unconditionally.
I wish I was better at saying it all the time.
But please, please, please embrace it.
You guys is the shit.