Sunday was Father’s Day.
I started the day by burning a mix CD of my favorite punk tunes.
Not because it was Father’s Day.
Then I read this post from Patti.
Which got me thinking about Dad.
Even more than I already was.
That long? Really?!
Patti said this is her 30th Father’s Day without her dad.
Which made me realize that this is my 16th Father’s Day without mine.
My dad and I had a weird and wild relationship.
There was lots of fighting. And lots of ignoring each other. And lots of feeling more like enemies than father and son.
But there were some sweet times too.
Fishing. Except not really.
Like when I was a little kid and he’d take me fishing.
And I’d walk all along the banks of the river. Turning over every single rock I could find. Looking for frogs and crawdads and salamanders.
He’d catch a fish. I’d clap and scream.
Then I’d go back to turning over rocks. And he’d go back to fishing.
Even though we were each doing our own thing, I felt like we were hanging out together.
Somehow it just worked for us.
BBQ + Buddhas
Then there was the trip we took to DC when I was 14 or 15.
I was crazy into art. And Dad wanted me to see the Smithsonian’s art collection.
So we took off. Just the two of us.
And we spent three days in DC.
Days full of mind-blowing art, Mongolian barbecue at this little dive joint and buying plastic Buddhas in Chinatown.
It was fun.
There was no fighting, no ignoring, no feeling-like-enemies.
So, yeah, there are definitely some good memories.
Even if, in real life, beyond the fishing and the Buddhas, we spent most of our time not talking to each other. And when we did it was usually more screaming than talking.
Prelude to the huge
Then, during my senior year in high school, something huge happened.
Like life changing kind of huge.
Dad had actually moved out.
He and Mom weren’t getting along. And after one of the worst fights ever, he left.
He was living in some dumpy rent-by-the-week motel.
When I saw it for the first time I remember feeling really sad that he was living there. Even though I was still seriously pissed at him about the fight.
But that wasn’t the life changing thing.
That was more or less just life.
One day Dad called the house and asked if I wanted to go out to lunch with him.
We never went to lunch. Even when he was still living at home.
So I didn’t get it.
Then there was that still-pissed-at-him thing.
So I basically said no way and hung up the phone.
He called back and talked to Mom. She told me I should go.
So I did.
Bring on the bomb
Dad picked me up. We went to eat. After lunch we were just driving around.
That’s when Dad dropped the bomb.
He said, Do you know what I wanted to be when I grew up?
No, I said in my best teenage like-I-care voice.
An artist, he said.
I had lived with this man for 17 years. And painted since I was a pollywog.
And he never said one thing about my art. Or art in general.
He never lifted a brush. Or put a pastel to paper. Or even glanced at an art magazine.
Zero. Zilch. Nada.
And now he’s telling me he wanted to be an artist?
It was a total WTF!? moment.
All I ever wanted to do was paint, he said. But grandma and grandpa told me that was dumb. They said I needed to get a real job.
Dad’s real job was a gig in mid-level corporate management.
He did well. And made decent money. But he hated it.
I think that’s why he was grumpy pretty much all the time.
So after hearing this all-I-ever-wanted-to-do-is-paint revelation I sat there totally open-mouthed.
Staring at Dad. Staring out the window. Staring at Dad.
Then he said, I know you’ve been thinking about college. And I know your mother and I have been hard on you about this.
But I want you to know that it’s ok to do what you want to do. Whatever it is.
I didn’t know what to say. I don’t think I said much.
But I was stunned.
Totally and completely blown away.
It’s like my whole world just went boom.
He dropped me off. I went inside. He went back to that dumpy little motel room.
Boom (part II)
Then he got sick.
Well got sick again.
He had cancer. It went away. Then it came back.
And a year later he was gone.
It happened so unexpectedly.
Going in for routine tests on Wednesday. Dead by the weekend.
I wasn’t even 19 yet. And Dad was dead.
My world went boom again.
Steaming pile of suck meet aha! moment
Fast forward six years.
I was living in North Carolina with my wife. And working a corporate job that I hated.
I had landed a mid-level management gig. Which sounded like a great idea at the time. But it morphed into a steaming pile of suck in a matter of months.
Tons of hours. Tons of stress. Tons of grumpy and angry and hard-to-be-around.
Then it hit me.
Holy shit. This is exactly what happened to Dad.
You can call me Gonzo
So I walked into the office and quit.
No two week notice. No tying up loose ends. No training a replacement.
I was effing gonzo baby.
I knew I had to do my thing. Whatever it was. I had to do it.
I didn’t want to be stuck in a job I hated for decades. And be miserable for the rest of my life. And die with some unfulfilled wish stuck in my gut.
So I jumped.
And I never looked back.
Life changing. Really.
Yeah, sometimes it’s been hard. And scary. And stressful.
And some people thought I totally lost my mind when I walked out on that corporate gig.
And said no to all of the offers they tossed out trying to keep me.
But I always think back to that conversation Dad and I had in the car.
I know that the whole life changing thing has gotten kicked around so much that it’s become a cliché.
So I try not to say it unless it’s true.
Totally life changing.
Gotta get it out
There are a lot of reasons why I do what I do.
But the catalyst for it was that extraordinary thing my dad said to me on an otherwise ordinary day.
Somebody – I don’t remember who – said, Don’t die with your music still in you.
That stuck with me when I heard it.
I feel like Dad died without ever getting his music out into the world.
I didn’t don’t want the same thing to happen to me.
That’s what got me moving in this direction.
And there isn’t one single time that I sit down to drum a drum or gong a gong or whack a singing bowl that I don’t think about Dad.
And about how insanely lucky I am to do what I do.
So this is me saying thanks Dad.