One thing I know for sure: The Lord put my Daddy on this earth to be a daddy. It's taken me a while to come to that conclusion, but I think it's right, and I'd prefer not to be contradicted. For a long time, especially when I was a know-it-all teenager, I didn't know what to do with the man. Bald head, rotten teeth, incapable of uttering a sentence only once, my daddy the chronic repeater just didn't jibe with what television and children's books led me to believe a father was supposed to look like. He chews tobacco and paces the floors when he's talking to you. He has never said I love you before in his life. I'm nearly 100 percent sure of it, and that used to bother me endlessly until I came up with my Theory of Predestined Roles. At least that's the working title.
The thing my daddy is best at--and he's good at lots of things--is being a father. Not the handsomely trim, emotionally demonstrative soccer coach dad you'd see on Desperate Housewives (a DILF, if you will). He's a born caregiver. He doesn't have to look the part because he invented it. He doesn't have to say "I love you" because his body screams it with every muscle spasm and joint pop.
My daddy ran my bath water for me until I was ten years old. I think it hurt his feelings when I, in my decade's worth of grandiose wisdom, told him I would no longer need his services. He obliged me without an argument, but he was right there when, just after he left, I cranked up the hot water and yelped from the scald. Daddy cared about me, and he didn't want me to burn myself from the water that got much too hot as it traversed its way topsy-turvy through the persnickety pipes of our double-wide trailer. He cared about me enough to let me burn myself, though, and learn caution. Learn that maybe I still needed him after all.
He was at each of Jeffrey's home football games, and at most of the away ones, too, unless they were too far south in Mississippi, so far he couldn't make them in time after he got of work. Daddy loved watching those boys fumble on the field, particularly his own son, my brother, the 2nd string whatever who got little field play. Despite his love of sports and my disinterest in them, Daddy was there for all my adolescent rites of passage: choir concerts, school plays, countless academic awards ceremonies. Even the Momma I Adore can't say that much.
I took a composition class at Mississippi University for Women the summer before my senior year of high school and wrote a personal essay about my father, how he was born to drive. It makes sense. He drives a silver boat of a patrol car for a living, would spend evenings driving all about the county after he got off work, taking Jeffery to Taekwando and me to church. He always drove Aunt Mollie to the Methodist church at Pleasant Hill on Sunday mornings and picked her up just before noon since she never stayed for the invitation hymn. And the only two times I've ever known of him go to church of his own accord were the day I was baptized and the night I played Shepherd Number 2 in a musical at the Cedar View Baptist Church. My Daddy doesn't do religion, but when his youngest, most precocious went through that Evangelical Phase small town Southern kids are susceptible to, he took off his cap, tucked in his shirt, and sat right there in the back of the sanctuary to watch me take the plunge, make my joyful noise.
Jeffrey is so much like my father. He paces the floor when he talks just like Daddy, and he never quite knows what to do with his hands when he's conversing. He is restless now, constantly burning up gas bumbling down the road in his red pick up, finding some relative or another to get mad at. That's our Momma coming out in him, but he'll settle down when he has a child. Like our father, my brother was born to be a daddy, to care for another person more than he does for himself. In Jeffrey's case, like in Daddy's, I think the other person will have to be his own child, or the equation just won't work. Men like my father and brother make strange bedfellows. They aren't passionate lovers, which precludes them from being husband material for the types of women to which they are attracted. If I had a crystal ball it would tell me that my brother will marry right around 30, have a couple kids and remain completely enthralled with them through his divorce and high cholesterol diagnosis, right up until the day he dies. Just like our father.
More tenuous is determining the Theoretical Predestined Role for myself. I'm not like the men in my family, and those men closest to me, Daddy and Jeffery, have never treated me like I would grow up to be a man at all. Daddy still doesn't want me driving late at night, and Jeffrey calls to check on me when I'm sick, not like a brother would but like a father, to impart wisdom and utter proclamations of finality, words infused with healing, "you'll be alright come morning." I often feel like the daughter and sister they never had, because I'm the sensitive one. I am the son who loves in a different way than they know how. For me, love is my mother buying me a glittery star candle holder at Goodwill because she knows that my interior design taste tends towards a tacky-hippie infusion. It's my grandmother picking me up a John Grisham book at a yard sale for a quarter, not because she knows whether or not I like his work, but because she knows I'm a reader. Thoughtfulness, random acts of kindness, evidence of care beyond the conceived parameters of care giving: this is the style in which I love, and it's often gotten me in trouble with my male friends who, upon reflection, consider the cookbook or homemade banana muffins I gave them demonstrations of my romantic interest.
I don't love like men do, because I feel that love is contingent. It's something that can slip away unless little signs are shown to indicate it's still in blossom. I learn that from my mother, and I see myself in waking dreams like her, endlessly loved yet constantly aware that at any time the affection could slip away. Love is something we pine for, like school girls, longing for a kiss, who spend Sunday afternoons weeping in unmade beds. My father loves differently, constantly, unquestioningly. He is the only man I accept this type of love style from, because I believe more than just about anything else that he was born to love his sons with every movement of his body.
But I wasn't born that way. I was born for something else, yet to be determined.
This scribble comes from a discussion I had with my therapist (did I just demolish any credibility I may have had?) and from thoughts I've had while reading The Man I Might Become: Gay Men Write About Their Fathers. I'm thinking of polishing, tightening, and including this piece in the collection of creative work I'm submitting for my master's thesis, tentatively titled Learning To Talk.