Monday, June 20, 2011

Dream: The men who got us here

When we were young and first dating people sometimes mistook my husband and me for brother and sister. Once, some rarely seen relatives on my father's side even assumed my brother was my date because the family's New York Irish blood is so much more apparent in my freckled, Long Island-native husband than in my blond-haired, Massachusetts-born brother.

I suppose there is a passing physical resemblance, but if you looked at our childhood photos you'd never mistake us for siblings.  Where photographic evidence suggests my childhood was clothing-optional and love bead-mandatory, my husband was more often pictured wearing John-John Kennedyesque short suits.

I grew up in rural Massachusetts calling my parents by their first names.  My husband grew up in suburban Long Island calling his parents Mom and Dad and in the nearly 18 years since we first started dating, I could probably count on one hand the times I've heard my husband speak his parents' first names (and never to their faces).

A lot of these differences have to do with the men who raised us.  Where my father-in-law was in ROTC and served in Vietnam, my father, a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, skipped college and hitchhiked around the country.  My father-in-law smoked cigars; my father smoked, um, other things. My husband recently mentioned that when he was younger his father listened to the soundtrack of Les Miserable in his car.  My father took me to the first and second Lollapaloozas but left me home for the third because he and my brother agreed I'd be no good in the pit. When I was in high school my father embarrassed me with his penchant for black muscle shirts.  My husband suffered his father's inability to wear anything more casual than wrinkle-free khakis, shined loafers and madras shirts.  My father-in-law prides himself on his resemblance to John McCain (it's mostly in coloring and facial expression) and my father never fails to let me know when a stranger tells him how much he looks like Ron Perlman of Hellboy (google him and you'll have a close approximation of my father).

These differences have caused various tensions.  There was the time that my now husband and I treated both of our families to dinner the night before our college graduation. His parents sent back their entrees as they are wont to do and I could feel my mother, who waitressed for years when my brother and I were young, quietly fuming across the table. And while I love my father enough to make noises that simulate attentive listening when he lectures me over the phone about Obama's capitulation to Wall Street and weakness in the face of the Republicans, I did once --very politely, mind you-- hang up on my father-in-law's harangue about socialist healthcare and the end of democracy.  Also, I'm not overly proud of the way I occasionally tell my husband that he's being just like his father when what I really mean is incredibly unpleasant.

Still, on the occasion of Father's Day, it occurred to me that there is some overlap in the men who got us here.  For instance, they both made time for us despite taxing schedules.  My husband remembers his father driving through hours of traffic from his office in New Jersey to make it back to Long Island to watch him play soccer. When I was in high school, my father worked full-time heat treating metal blades by night and went to school full-time to finally earn his BA by day.  Not only did he drive me to school in the morning, but when I got my Learner's Permit he calmly took the passenger's seat as I ground through his gears the entire hourlong trip --and he was pretty good-natured on the day I finally burnt through the clutch and we sat stranded on the side of the road.

Both fathers wanted what they thought was best for us --even though it wasn't quite what we ended up with.  My father-in-law would have been very happy had his son ended up with a nice Catholic girl and a career in sales, whereas my father thought I should be whatever I wanted as long as I married a man with calloused, hardworking hands. Most importantly, though, they both stayed mostly out of the way when we wanted didn't match what they'd hoped.  My father-in-law was good-natured --outwardly, at least-- as he sat beneath the very unholy tent where we were married by the unmistakably secular Justice of the Peace.  My father, meanwhile, smiled proudly as he walked me down the aisle despite knowing full well that at the end waited a smooth-handed man who wore a tie each day to work.

In the end I think that it's these similar landmarks on our very separate paths that have led my husband and I to be fairly well synced in our approaches to parenting, despite the fact our own parents could scarcely be more different.  And as the girls and I feted my husband yesterday on Father's Day, I thought a lot about how he is giving of his time, committed to giving our kids the best and accepting of who they are. 

Mostly, though, I felt lucky that he was wearing neither madras nor a muscle-tee.

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