On this Father’s Day, I’d like to recognize my dad by offering an open apology. You see, he and I never saw eye to eye. For years I resented him, feeling like he owed me something. Now that I’m almost 50-years old, I think I’m beginning to understand who he was and why he was like he was.
Howard Cole was not a warm-and-fuzzy kind of guy. On the contrary, in my eyes he was cold and distant. This isn’t to say he didn’t spend time with us because he did. However, when he took the time to focus on me and me alone, I rarely walked away feeling fulfilled.
When I was little I really wanted that connection. In the beginning I tried very hard to live up to what I thought was his expectations. One of my earliest recollections was the one time he tried to teach me how to catch and throw a football. Dad was a big Buffalo Bills fan and watching football was one of the things he enjoyed. I figured that if I could demonstrate an aptitude for it we’d be “all good”. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts I really sucked at it. Quite frankly, the ball was too damned hard and it hurt my little fingers.
“Throw a spiral? Are you crazy? Who the heck can throw an oblong-shaped ball in a spiral?”
I walked away that day feeling both disappointed and knowing I disappointed him. It was such as strong feeling that remained with me for years.
As I grew older we became increasingly distant. Everything I did seemed to disappoint him and I found myself resistant to accepting blame whether it was my fault or not. Like the one time I once nearly killed my sister, my best friend, and myself by wrapping his car around a telephone pole on the Seneca Indian Reservation. I wasn’t an experienced driver and the roads were snowy and icy. As a car approached in the distance, I overcompensated and moved too far to the right. I hit a patch of ice, slid through a snow bank, and ran head-on into a telephone pole. I must have been going pretty fast since the hood crumpled like a tin can as it slammed against the thick wood. Fortunately no one was injured and the car remained drivable – albeit squished.
All the way home I had a feeling of dread. I knew Dad would be upset and that fed my fear. Despite the fact I had destroyed his car, my mind shifted the blame to him. I became angry before I even saw him. Looking back on it, it made no sense whatsoever. Dad was certainly angry but not nearly as angry as I was. I made the situation worse. The reality was that Dad was more concerned about me than the vehicle. He just didn’t say it.
Like my Dad, I’m also not the warmest person you’ll ever meet. I’m not sure whether that’s the result of my childhood or genetics but it’s true. Since we are so similar, I’ll say this: just because I’m not warm-and-fuzzy does not mean I don’t love my friends or my family. People like Howard and I show our affection in other ways. We work hard, will always provide for our families, and will always defend them when push comes to shove. On the other hand, we are also extremely independent. Independence, however, is often misconstrued as avoidance, non-interest, or a lack of care. This is not true. We always have the best interests of others in mind even if we don’t say it.
The point of my story is that I owe Dad a huge apology. Had I known then what I know now, I would most likely have responded differently. I know that everything he did was aimed towards making me a better person. I also know that he loved me very much even if he didn’t say it often.
Dad died in 1987 when I was on my first patrol with the Coast Guard. I was never able to say I was sorry. Today I’d like to do that:
“Dad, I’m sorry for not understanding who you were or for not recognizing all you did for me. Someday I’ll say it to you in person. Until then, know that I love you very much. Thank you for making me the person I am today.”
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