A Portrait of My Father as a Young Dad

Happy Father’s Day, Father. We have done many things, shared many moments. I still do not know how to change my oil, I taught myself how to BBQ, and you never gave me the sex talk. But you do love Jesus with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and…that, my good and faithful, father and friend, has always been enough.

A Portrait of My Father as a Young Dad

            It would be a great error to say that I have written about my father in length. I haven’t. What little I have has ended up here for any and for all to read. Usually my reminiscing lands me on an image of devotion. I have spoken of it before. My father awake before work, tending to the Word of God with a cup of black coffee, naked at the kitchen table with the exception of his Haines underwear. A short shower and he heads to work, returning in time to microwave dinner before leaving for another job.

I revisit these memories often in my free time, randomly on car trips, late at night, as the starting point for developing thoughts on devotion, and when I need the extra push to get out of bed. It is an odd phenomenon. I used to imagine wrestling and football coaches, their whistles and pudgy red faces, spraying me with spit and tobacco filled inspiration. Not anymore. I think of my father and the two hot dogs that bubble in the microwave until they split open, how he grabs them, every time when they are too hot, and flings them down into the crumbling buns. He mutters, “shit, shit,” underneath his breathe while doing that snappy sounding thing with his index finger. I suppose he could have waited 30 seconds for them to cool, but he never does.

These fragments from my childhood, my angsty adolescence, and my blurry high school years offer me something like the stilling of stormy water. In my mind, ripples bleed out all across a muggy expanse. The only way to describe it is chaos. But these memories act as a tiny finger touch turning the surface back to calm glass.

More important than my recalling of this image of my father is my remembrance of his silence. All those years I felt him to be an awfully quiet man. He wasn’t. I remember him helping coach my Little League baseball team, I remember him trying to teach me how to swing a golf club (I was probably the only student who he ever gave up on), and I recall him driving me to school, teaching me to ride a bike. He showed me how to look up how much baseball cards were worth, he let me play with his art supplies, he showed me how to use an old camera, we built a skateboard ramp together, we washed his car on the lawn on sunny days, he made my bike sound like a motorcycle, he let me taste his Coors Lite.

Sadly though, I remember no words. I know he talked, he must have, but his words evade me now and all I recall is the silence.

I find this tragic—but mostly curious, curious because I have always found it an easy task to remember the words of others, written or spoken.

I used to be unsettled by this mystery. Today, however, as I look back at the fragmented memories of my father and stare at the shadowy face that represents him, the silence, I am not so saddened of baffled anymore. I don’t, on the other extreme, chalk it up to some point of providence or divine intervention. I think assuming that my father’s lack of personal interaction throughout my life as something meant to teach me a lesson is both a slip into a selfish understanding of his life, and an arrogant view of the world and God on my part.

But I do find in this mystery something beautiful unraveling in the person of my dad. After all these years of examining and re-examining, of feeling peace and anger, contentment and bitterness, I have found I have overlooked who he is throughout the entire process.

I assaulted my father with title dad and relentlessly held him to the standard of fatherhood that I knew from sources outside of who he was. One thing I have come to realize in retrospect is that a major part of who my dad is—is artist.

My father studied art in college.  He graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Art. He was a print maker and an oil painter. I have seen his work in charcoal from his still life classes. Somehow, amidst the attempt to freeze the human body and hold it to one posture, his lines still display the natural kinetic tendency of the human form.

I am often startled at the man who sits in his underwear, not simply because of his silence but because of what the silence proceeds.

For so long I was unaware or let it remain unrecognized what lurked within the man I simply characterized as “dispassionate.” I intentionally use the word lurk, because in many ways I am terrified. Not terrified like struck with fear, but struck with awe and respect. My only response to his silence is often a silence of my own.

I myself am a young man struggling to put to words many things. Unfortunately, I have chosen the route of a writer as my way to communicate that struggle, an ironic place to cast myself. But my father, he chose a different mode. He chose to be a husband, a teacher, a golfer, and my dad. But the artist still lives in him. The silence that begets his art still lingers at the forefront of who he is.

I wait often for him to speak at the dinner table, on the couch, or as I sit on the corner of his bed. I wait and he says nothing. I recognize now that in the silence something is stirring, something far greater than any answer doused in axioms or “if p then q logic.” What is birthed from silence is something totally new and terrifying.

What I hear in the silence of my father is the silence of God. It is the silence before creation in Genesis. It is the silence of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. It is the silence of God himself to the Son in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Silence is the beginning of the creative act. Silence teases out the choices that we can truly call our own. Silence is not only a response to the mysterious, to ideas and acts of love, grace, forgiveness, terror, or ugliness. Silence is before those things. Before there is anything, there is silence.

What used to upset me most about the silence was the accusation that came along with it. Forever, silence equated to abandonment. My father, in his underwear with his holy book, seemed unapproachable. But now as I grow older and begin to identify that his lack of speech is just a noiseless grasping for the same mystery that I am trying to grip, I know that he is not simply silent. I write words. He paints. I talk. He etches. I discuss. He reads. But both of our creative acts begin in silence. We strive together. Silence is not Absence.

I am still tangled in the mystery of my father and his silence. He is growing out of it. He speaks more often now. When I come home for short visits, the wrinkles at his eyes and the frailness that is emerging in his step tells me silence has given way to art, and art has morphed into meaning and meaning into wisdom. You can see it in the four grey hairs that lick his eyebrows.

I am curious as to what I can glean from him now and in what way. I wonder if I will ever remember him as a man of words. I hope not. I hope I remember him as a man who says little and does much, and in doing much says everything.


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