Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Approaching Fatherhood: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This is a photo of me, my Dad and my sister Karen. Karen, as you can see was very sassy and I was laid-back, chilling on my hipster dad's lap (notice the black label next to him).

Jackie (my wife) and I are 5 weeks from being parents and I can't believe that I am six years older than my Dad was in that photo. I am overwhelmed with excitement and feel about as small as the little guy I was on my Dad's lap.

My Dad and I never were friends when I was growing up. About 2 years after this photo was taken I began to read and soon after that, armed with ideas, I launched arguments against the old man when I thought he had sucked down one too many and his hipster pose seemed like a shaky pretense.

Dad didn't talk much. He still doesn't. His catchphrase for why he never told us he loved us was that, "actions speak louder than words." I hated that. I'm verbal. Very verbal. Too verbal. I basically could benefit from shutting my trap more often (blogging helps).

"What if" has always held me while "What is" has kept my Dad fixed in his idea that existence demands action if character is your goal. Dad started paying rent when he was 11. His alcoholic Dad couldn't be counted on to follow-through with the promises fathering 9 children demands. Paper boy, Pin setter, Photo assistant provided Dad action that led to survival so, when I asked him "Why" he'd shrug and say "Actions matter."

My Dad was a journey-man rough carpenter which means he built the two-by-four skeleton of residential sub-divisions. This meant early mornings of Winstons and coffee and 10 hours of pounding nails in alternating Michigan seasons of suffocating humidity and crippling cold. A good day was when you got the roof on early so you could "roll 'em up" and suck down a few cold Altes before a cross-town drive home.

Dad would stagger in at night but, he'd get up the next day at 4 AM flip through yesterday's paper and choke down a cigarette and a cup black before he'd head out to the burgeoning suburbs where the cry of "generator!" would jump-start a morning in the shadow of skeletal frames.

He lost his knees from negotiating 9 pitch roofs and his hands are calloused to the core. He fell through two stories once with a power saw in his hand and was told he wasn't needed when Reaganomics broke the unions and left Dad with a Journeyman's card facing a dead-end industry.

"Actions speak louder than words."

I remember him crying at the Kitchen table when he didn't know how he was going to pay for my education.

"Get college," he'd say so, "you don't have to be stupid like me and work with your hands."

I did. I studied and read and launched more arguments at the old man when he would offend me with his blunt response to life.

I've prided myself on being smart but that seems small now because facing fatherhood makes my Dad's philosophy immediate. Ideas without action are just empty promises. Actions speak louder than words.

I don't know what kind of father I will be. I hope to be honest and kind and fair and courageous but, I know me and more often than not I am manipulative and mean and partial and scared. I am still full of ideas but they run in tangents too often contradicting themselves and leaving me paralyzed with doubt.

The psychologist and philosophical father of pragmatism William James is attributed with saying, "One cannot think himself into good action but can act himself into good thinking," and Aristotle said that action is the "the vital principle and very soul of drama."

I hope to pass on to my son the mysteries of science and the wisdom of literature but, more importantly, I will give him the simple truth his grandfather gave me when the old man would drag his ass out of bed on a freezing February morning and flip to yesterday's obituaries to remind himself he was still alive. He'd light up a king filter, choke down some coffee black, then pull on his boots fire up his truck and say nothing. He'd kick his ass for 10 hours and take some comfort in a few cold ones and a warm bath and when his cocky book-worm son would try to get him to speak to the secrets of life and love, the old man would nod a bit and say, "actions speak louder than words."


kateherself said...

This is beautiful Chuck. I love it.
I think you're going to be a great dad.

It's not about having all of the answers, it's about asking the questions.

johnthomas didymus said...

fatherhood is an exciting experience for a first time dad. i recall how my wife an i fussed and fussed and fussed over our first child. the irony is that while one takes the coming of the second child more casually one does a better job from experience

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Good job Chuck O, I do say I did like that! Sounds like you had a great Father and that's always a plus and a good thing.

Both of mine were alchoholics, but I yet had good memories also.

Just thought I'd show up to see what you're about since you like to argue-LOL!


Gandolf said...

Truly beautiful Chuck.So much so it almost had me choking back tears.

For once i find myself agreeing with Harvey.Sounds like you had a wonderful dad, even if he didnt say much.

Chuck O'Connor said...

My dad is wonderful now. He was tough to live with growing up because I wanted more from him but now he is one of my best friends.

Harvey, it's my Pop's existentialism that causes me to doubt much of christianity because I find too many believers behaving badly.

I just don't buy it.

Thanks for reading guys. Hope to have you comment on more.



Gandolf said...

Chuck my friend, its my pleasure to read blogs like yours and get to have a affordable way to have some contact with good folks, way over on the otherside of the world.And gain some insight into other folks lives and thoughts and learn about stuff.

Its a funny thing life isnt it Chuck,kinda random very often it seems to me.My dad never smoked a smoke, never touched a drop of alcohol, worked his guts out as a carpenter too trying to provide for a wife and six kids.And got bowel cancer, and died only aged 38 or 39.

Random or what?.

Harvey is Harvey and to be honest i actually have no personal hate for him,i try not to carry personal hate of anyone.

I just dont find some of his charactor so kind,and speak my mind about what i think of it,specially when he is a pastor suggesting to follow some bloke called Jesus, who supposedly was so caring and understanding of all folks both bad and good.

He seems to tend to want to write off the suffering people experience through faith,with such ease and disregard of what some folks experience.Like African kids hunted down accused of being witches.He wont accept promotion of superstitious faith holds any responsibility at all for these things happening.Seem he feels he only needs to be concerned with what happens within his own little circle,

Whats the rub with that? ...Can the man not imagine for even a moment, later down the track somehow someone could branch out from within his cosy circle,and evolve into a faith maniac who accuses children elsewhere of witch craft

How does he suppose it ever happened that children in some places start getting acused of such things?....Did aliens arrive on earth and indoctrinate the idea into the minds of some preachers.

But ahhh well ...just goes to show reading a faith book dont make folks have a honest heart

Peace be with you and your family too, friend !

Gandolf said...

Congratulations on becoming a dad Chuck .Thats wonderful

John Reneaud said...

Reads like your ol' man gave you the best he could. Turns out that's all a father can do. You will still be you Chuck, only, I'm sure you will find that's more than enough.

My kid is nine now... Best adventure ever!

Congratulations to you and your wife.

feeno said...

Chuck you will be a great father. All the planning and pre-thoughts of what and how to do things are all thrown out the window as soon as them little shits are born. Sounds like you know that already? Congratulations to you and the Mrs.

Cool pic of the old man.

Ok, we can now go back to DC and make fun of each other again.

Late, feeno

Grace said...

Hey, Chuck,

Just found your blog. I have six kids altogether, grown now. My youngest son is twenty-two. The grandkids are coming along.

Agree with what everyone is sharing. You will be a great dad.

Don't worry. It's easier when they're sleeping through the night.

The little one must be here by now. How is it going?

feeno said...


I'm not here to pimp my blog. I just felt since I mentioned you on it you had the right to check it out if you wanted to?

Later, feeno

LatoshaDelapena0209嘉瑜 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.