A post for my pop.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've seen that picture before. I ran it last October in this post, actually. That would be my 6'5" tall father tearing it up on a dance floor at a wedding last year. No, he's not making a goofy pose for the camera, he was dancing. I'm serious...think Bill Cosby meets Napoleon Dynamite meets the Minister of Silly Walks and you have a pretty clear picture of how he dances.
My sisters and I used to be embarassed when he'd dance, or show up somewhere wearing his incredibly LOUD plaid golf pants or a goofy-looking pair of shoes. Thing is, what we didn't realize at the time was he was teaching us a valuable lesson in being an individual and being comfortable with who you are in your own skin. It's a lesson that reverberates through the Fox kids to this day, and a lesson I try to pass on to anyone who will listen.
Yesterday was Father's Day, and I spent a large part of the day thinking about how lucky I am to have that goofy dancing guy in that picture as my dad. More than once, he's proven to me what being a father and a role model is all about. For one, he's extremely fair, and tends to look at things from all angles before forming an opinion about something. He's the kind of guy who can have a martini lunch and a golf outing with the CEO of a major corporation, but then go knock back beers and hang out with the guys who work on the factory floor, making the same kind of personal connections; it's why he's been such a successful buisnessman, someone well-liked among his peers.
He's also the master of the Art of Bullshit. Let me tell you a story.
One winter night, he and 19 year-old me were ambling down Interstate 271 in Cleveland in my mom's rusty old 1982 Chevrolet Celebrity coupe, but one of many Winter Beaters my mom drove through the years (except she drove them year-round). As we neared the Interstate 480 junction, the car started bucking, then suddenly, with a loud sighing noise, the engine quit. It was like it was telling us, "I'm done." Dad tried to restart it, but was unsuccessful.
"Aw, shit," I said. "I think it's out of gas." I had totally forgotten to put gas in it after I had used it earlier in the day.
My dad peered at the gas gauge. "I think you're right."
"I guess this means I'm gonna be pushing this soon, huh?"
He chuckled and looked over at me. "Maybe," he said, knowing I had forgotten to feed the gas tank, but choosing not to press the issue. "But I think we'll be fine." He snapped off the radio as not to drain the battery any more than he needed to.
I slumped down in the seat. "Yeah, right. Whatever." I pulled my gloves onto my hands.
Since we were rolling down a slight grade, we maintained enough momentum to merge onto I-480. It's a good thing we were doing about 70 when the engine died, because not only did we have enough momentum to merge onto another freeway, we also had enough momentum to roll down the first exit past the interchange.
"Dad, that light is about to change," I warned, as we rolled down the exit ramp, again gaining momentum.
"No, it's not," he replied.
"Yes it is!" I exclaimed, as it turned yellow about 5 seconds before we passed beneath it.
"It's green enough," he said as we rolled through the intersection at the end of the ramp.
The nearest gas station was still a quarter mile ahead and over a hill, but my dad was undaunted. As we rolled along silently, the car slowed to maybe ten miles an hour.
"Fuckity-fuck goddamn son of a bitch," I mumbled to myself. My dad understands a good stream of obscenities in times of stress, and didn't make an issue of my language. Had I said that in front of my mom, he would have knocked me unconcious into next week.
"Oh, brrp brrp brrp brrp brrp," my dad taunted through pursed lips. That's the sound he makes when he's mocking you and wants you to shut up.
As we crested the hill, we started picking up momentum again. I looked at the gas station ahead, thinking maybe I'd only have to push the car a short distance. The traffic light that separated us from the gas station suddenly turned yellow.
"Dad, pull over! There isn't enough time to make that light!" I yelled.
"Oh, bullshit, don't give me that crapola," he said, calmly. "We've got plenty of time."
He was right. We rolled through the intersection just as it turned red, which gave us enough time and momentum to pull up to the gas station. Amazingly, at about five miles per hour, we rolled into the gas station, past the cashier, and up to the first set of pumps. The car ground slowly to a halt, with the fuel door aligned perfectly with the pump.
My dad smacked the steering column gearshift lever with his palm into Park.
"Chad," he said, with a grin, "that's what's called 'Knowing Your Vehicle.'"
Since the engine died, my dad had not ONCE touched the brake pedal.
I was in utter disbelief. "Bullshit," I said, laughing, "we just got lucky."
"Oh, brrp brrp brrp," came the reply.
To this day, I've never seen anyone so smug. He kept calm and level-headed throughout the whole thing, even though we had gone over a mile on two busy interstates and through two major intersections - without the aid of a working internal combustion engine.
It was a valuable life lesson. I can't tell you how many times I've been in situations where I was SO screwed, but because I kept calm and focused, I was just fine.
His calm level-headedness is precisely why I feel like I can tell him almost anything. I say "almost" because there are some things you just don't discuss with your parents, and some things they just don't discuss with you. Those are Private Things. However, let me tell you about the time I had to share my Deepest, Darkest, Scariest Secret with my father.
The day I told him I was gay.
That day in July of 1994 was warm and sunny, with low humidity, with a light, refreshing breeze blowing off of Lake Erie. I had driven up to Cleveland in my new Volvo (the one from the previous entry) from Florida to visit, as I sometimes did. It was only a 16-hour drive, and there's nothing I love more than a good roadtrip. Since I wanted to tell my parents I was gay seperately, I waited until my dad went out to Alesci's (an Italian food store) to get some groceries before I dropped The Bomb on my mom.
She didn't take it very well initially. To her credit, she wasn't so upset I was gay, but rather, she was bothered by the fact I had told my sisters and friends before I told her. Don't get me wrong, the whole gay thing was quite a shock to her because I'm so incredibly manly, butch, and masculine with absolutely no gay tendencies whatsoever. However, that's a completely different blog entry...let's fast-forward to the part where my dad walked in the back door, bags of groceries in his arms, whistling a little tune, just being...his goofy, good-natured self.
He walked into the living room.
"Tell him!" my mom demanded.
"Mom, I'll tell him-" I started.
"No, tell him now!" she shouted.
I cringed, and realized I had to tell my father I was a homosexual.
I rose from the sofa, and looked at my dad. "Dad," I started stammering, "there's something I have to tell you."
He looked absolutely confused. "What? You can tell me anything." He put the groceries on the dining room table, which was significant because my dad would NEVER put the groceries on the dining room table. He can't sit down unless ALL the groceries are put away and the bags in which they were carried home stored properly in the old milk chute in the pantry. Yes, he's that anal-retentive at times.
"Let's go outside," I said. With leaden feet, I trudged through the living room, dining room, and kitchen, through the back hallway, out the back door, and across the small back yard. I followed a stepping stone path to a bluestone patio I had built myself out of discarded chunks of old sidewalk as a surprise for my parents a few years earlier. It was to compliment a brick patio that my dad and I installed the autumn I turned 14. We walked up to a glider bench my dad and I had assembled ourselves shortly after I had built and landscaped the patio.
To this day, it's the longest walk I've ever taken in my entire life. I felt like I was walking to my execution...an utter eternity.
We sat down on the bench and faced each other. My dad put his hand on my knee, squeezed it gently, and asked gently, "What do you have to tell me?"
"Do you know that girl I've been dating, Karen?" I had told them I was dating someone, which was technically true.
"Yes, you've talked about her a few times. What about her?" His forehead wrinkled a bit, and he looked concerned. I think he thought I was about to tell him he was a grandfather.
I was trembling. I had no idea what was about to happen, but I hoped for the best.
This was it. One of the scariest moments in a gay man's life. Telling his father.
"W-well..." I stuttered, with a lump quickly rising in my throat and tears starting to form in my eyes, "her name isn't Karen." I was going to finish with, "Her real name is Philip," but I simply couldn't utter another syllable. I was trembling too much, and my voice was completely failing me.
My dad looked really confused for a second and stared at the ground. Suddenly...the fogginess lifted. He closed his eyes, and nodded gently.
"Chad," he said, "you're my son, and I love you. No matter what. I want you to know that." He reached over and hugged me tightly.
I started bawling.
"Dad, y-you...I c-can't..." I spluttered.
"Shhh," he replied, hugging me tighter. "Calm down, collect yourself, and let's go talk to your ma, okay?" He sat back, looked at the big, blubbering, emotional gay mess sitting on the bench next to him, and smiled. "I love you, don't you ever forget it," he finally said after a few seconds.
I knew right then and there I'd be able to tell him anything, and no matter what, he'd always be in my corner and have my back. Not that I didn't think that before, but when your dad reacts like that when you tell him you're gay, it's like the Cadillac Escalade you've been carrying on your shoulders since you were 12 years old is suddenly flung into a distant junkyard (where most Escalades belong, but again...that's a totally different blog post). It made me cry even harder.
"Come on," my dad said, motioning towards the house. "I think we need to be together as a family right now and talk about this, okay?" We stood up, and faced the house.
A final sob wracked my body, and a huge blob of snot suddenly flew from my nose and hit my arm, which snapped me out of my messy emotional state. I wiped it on my pants and said, "Okay." I mustered a grin.
He grinned back and put his arm around my shoulders. I will say that is probably the only time I've ever wiped snot on my pants and my dad hasn't said a word about it. When I was a kid, he would have said, "Oh, come ON, use a Kleenex!"
As we walked through the backyard to the house, the air seemed a little sweeter. The birds chirping were even more cheerful than usual. The sun was brighter and warmer. The flowers were more fragrant and colorful than they were a few minutes earlier. The sky was bluer, and the little white clouds overhead were fluffier. There was clarity in my head, and joy in my heart.
Deep down, I knew life was going to be better.
That day, my father taught me what being a dad was all about. He taught me never to be afraid to be anything but myself. He showed me what unconditional love was all about, and that no matter what, I could tell him anything and he'd never judge me.
How lucky am I?
It's a day late, but happy Father's Day, Pop.