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."