A Letter to My Father on his 66th Birthday

My Dad, circa whenever sepia was popluar

My Dad, circa whenever sepia was popluar

Hey dad. I recently remembered that standup routine I did back in 1995 at that coffee shop where Char worked in Blue Bell. I got my ten-minute set together, practiced it three times in the mirror (not too much so as to dull my delivery) and went out there nervous as hell. You had asked me if I wanted you to come and I told you no, because I had included some racy material that would have paralyzed the 20-year-old version of me with nerves had I known my father was in the audience. I couldn’t score if the girl had a home plate in her living room. Good thing I spared you from that and the similar atrociously dirty jokes that followed.

I have since gotten back up on stage, though it took me another 12 years to work up the guts. It turns out I have a knack for it. I won several contests and awards in the years that followed and soon found my way to performance storytelling, which I much prefer to standup. You can take your time to set up a story arc and integrate some real meaning into the piece. It beats telling the same five minutes of dick jokes over and over. Anyway, that has since led me to a collegiate creative writing program, following right in the footsteps of my writer father. I have been trying to get some of my work published recently and it reminded me of seeing mom putting together all those cover letters, typed out individually on a typewriter, and sending them out to agents and publishers in manila envelopes. The publishing world is a lot different now, though the success rate doesn’t seem to have changed.

In fact, the best piece I’ve written is called The Heartbreak of Breathing. If you remember this title, it’s because you wrote it. Toward the end of your days, I remember you writing a poem with that title, but I couldn’t find it. When I asked mom and Char to look for it a year later, they couldn’t find it either and didn’t remember it at all. I don’t see how they could forget four words so powerful, but there’s also no way I made it up. It’s possible it was just the subject heading of an email or four words scribbled on a napkin at a diner. But I turned my search for the source of those four words into a pretty moving story that I hope to try to get published one day as a tribute to you, because the words are just as much yours as they are mine.

I have a daughter. You’d absolutely love her because I know how much you loved your Goddaughter, Paige, and how alive you were around her. That and because everybody loves Mabel. Being with her is the most joy I’ve had in my life. I can’t wait until she’s old enough to go to movies and play chess, but I also don’t ever want her to get any older than she is right now. She laughs a lot and dances a disproportionately large amount of time. She adores me and loves her mother, who is someone else I’m sorry you never got the opportunity to meet. You’d love her too. She treats me well and doesn’t take any crap from your brothers. We’re fortunate enough so that I can stay home with Mabel while Jenn works. This has been the single greatest and most stressful two years of my life.

I now understand what it means to be a parent. It means you had a kid. And that’s it. There are no papers to sign or tests to pass. Anybody could become a parent. As a child, I pictured you and mom as something much more, something that you have to aspire to. I now realize you were just two people who had a kid. Jenn and I planned to have a child and were happily married for five months before we got pregnant. But that’s not to say that we realized the full implications of this decision and how it would put our individual aspirations on the back burner for the next X years. Knowing where we are now and how Mabel will see us as being her world, I wonder now what it was Char and I were to you. I know without a doubt that you loved us and did the best you could with what you had, but were you on your way somewhere else when we came along? What dreams did you put on hold for the two of us? Did you get to revisit them? This isn’t something I imagine you talk about with your kids. I hope whatever it was, that you got back to them later or at least found peace with the new direction your life turned. I hope the same for myself.

I have stolen your sense of humor. It has become a defining characteristic of mine and something that has opened a lot of doors in my life. When prompted to answer a question about my hero or my influence, I say My Dad and Paul Reiser. But I only really throw Paul Reiser in there to give the statement some credibility. Thank you for that.

I forgot your birthday last year. It was the first time in the eight years since you’ve passed and certainly my 30 years before that this has happened. I have developed a routine for commemorating your life over the last eight years in which I will write a story about you every day in the week leading up to Father’s Day and post it on a blog that no one will read – and then watch Big Fish on Father’s Day. In fact, a story that I told on stage based on these short stories of you called The Encyclopedia of my Father won me a spot in a “Best of 2011-2012” storytelling show last year. Now that I have a daughter, Father’s Day looks a little different. So beginning this year, I am moving that tradition to your birth-month. Because you deserve it and because I enjoy remembering you.

Well dad, I just wanted to let you know that I think about you. I think about you a lot, especially now that I am a father of my own. You were my baseball coach, my football coach and are still the funniest guy I ever knew. You were the father I hope to be one day. And when my daughter tells me that she’s doing a standup routine and wouldn’t be comfortable with me in the audience, I hope I have the tact and savvy to look her and the eye and wish her good luck and then sneak in the back door and hide behind the vending machine too. Thanks a ton. I’m glad you got to see me on stage at least once. Hopefully you’re catching some of this from the shadows too. I love you, dad. Happy birthday.

Me and Dad, April 2005

Me and Dad, April 2005

8 thoughts on “A Letter to My Father on his 66th Birthday

    • Yeah, that mullet phase didn’t last too long. Basically as long as it took somebody to say “Hey, nice mullet.” But thanks for reading. 🙂

  1. Actually, Dustin, you and Charmaine saved your father’s life. Your birth gave him a reason for living. Before you were born he was headed down a very dark path to oblivion. His love for you was the motivating factor for the rest of his life.

    • Char actually just told me that. I had no idea. I’m happy to know that I somehow helped the world get another 30 years out of that guy. Thanks, mom.

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