Just Like You
August 25, 1997

The cup of coffee stared at me. I could not lift my head to look up because I could not bear to look at my father as he heralded the laws of life. He was in his "My Way" mood. He insisted that I could not understand him, and proudly informed me as if he had just been enlightened, "Son, you and I live in different worlds." I raised my eyes toward him and furrowed my brow in reply. The sage had just figured it out. "El Sabio" I called him. He was excused because I knew he was tired and already on his third martini. He was right though, we did live in separate realities. We were at Original Joe's, my father's favorite restaurant. He had frequented it for the last twenty years. I must admit, despite our differences, I too had come to love OJ's.

As a child I felt forced to come here and I would always claim to dislike everything on the menu. Yet, somehow, miraculously I would always find something to eat. I realized that growing to love Joe's was one of the many idiosyncrasies I would inevitably take from my father.

As children we often swear to never ever become like our parents or to never treat our children as they tortured us. Yet, as long as the sun rises and the moon shines, children will inevitably inherit some of their parents’ characteristics, good and bad. As adolescents we are myopic, and often cannot see that our ideals will eventually be superseded by the circumstances our obligations confine us to as adults.

My memory of that moment with my father fades with the twirling my fork in the past which I had not yet devoured and when his words become one incessant drone which had continued to ruin my appetite.

Six years have passed since I wrote that passage in my journal. It is amazing how time changes everything: people, places, perceptions. I have grown older and am living experiences similar to those my father once struggled through, and he has grown wiser because of them.

There was once a time when what were supposed to be the most celebrated moments of our lives turned to be some of the ones I wanted to forget most. Regretfully, I recall how as a child every Christmas and birthday was particularly depressing for me, because my father inevitably would give us a card, which someone else had bought for him, and he would place some money in it. It hurt to think that we were not worth the time it takes to choose and purchase a present for someone. Even if the gift was a tenth of the value of the money he gave us it would have been worth ten times more, because he would have actually put some thought and effort into it.

As years progressed, with my maturing and subsequent understanding and my father’s growth as a parent, some of what I once thought were his worst qualities became rather amusing.

For example, what he lacked in individual attention he made up for in social graces. My father was a great host at most celebrations. On such occasions he held much respect by much of the party, because he could be the life force behind la fiesta.

I vividly remember my high-school graduation party, when he had a little too much to drink, and his humor delightfully got out of hand. It was time for me to open my gifts, and so my father proudly stood beside me, swaying as he may have been. After having opened a few cards and presents, to my embarrassment, he began asking out loud, "So did they give you any money? Huh?" And if they hadn't, he made sure that people knew. It was terribly funny, to say the least.

I suppose, in a way, he was consciously setting me up for that grand gift he was to bestow upon me, after I had received everyone else's. The first part was a suitcase to suit my departure to college, and the second half was a carry-on bag...filled with brand new, crisp and clean dollar bills. Of course, he had me show it off to the crowd. This was probably the one and only time which I gladly welcomed the usual monetary gift from him.

And even though it was money which he had given me and my younger brother and sister most, one has to believe that it wasn't simply from a sense of parental obligation that he provided us with the fruits of his labor. He had always told me that he wanted us, his children, to have "the best." I believed him, but it was always difficult for me to accept that the best usually had to be bought.

Nonetheless, my kin and I lived relatively privileged lives, because of him and the care and sacrifice of our mother. We never suffered hunger nor lack of shelter. My sister and I also had the fortune of being supported while at private high-schools and during college. Furthermore, no one ever had to endure any physical brutality because of my father, but then again absolutely no one should ever have to from anyone. Yes, it was money which made his world go around, and he believed that the more we had the smoother the ride would be for us. In retrospect, I realize his good intentions should not be discounted or overlooked.

Past his mid-life crisis, accepting that two of his children have moved away, and thirteen years after the divorce, my father is practically a different person. He no longer gives us money. In fact, I have been shocked to receive holiday cards, Valentine’s Day ones even, which I know he actually choose himself because they reflect his unique and great sense of humor. His gifts are now models of giving, being that he assembles hand-picked cornucopias of things we like, another indication that he now pays attention to us as individuals.

In fact, I can easily say that my father and I have a wonderful relationship now, one admittedly aided by the distance. Where once I avoided him at all costs, today I turn to him as my greatest confidant. Recently, I was quite distressed about the great darkness which overcame my me. I knew there was only one person I could turn to. I had considered my mother, my best friend and a former lover, but in the end it came down to my old man. "If anyone knows the answer, he will," I thought.

He surprised me with a highly optimistic outlook on the situation, noting all the options to ease the tension. Pops was being fatherly, by giving me ideal and clean solutions, which at first frustrated me because I was hoping he would simply confirm my perspective. He suggested I take a few hours off and go to the driving range. I told him how I had expected him to suggest the Mustang Ranch instead of range, he chuckled and said “Well, that might help too,” knowing I would not take this acquiescence seriously. Despite not meeting my expectations, I greatly appreciate how he helped me keep my chin up and my sights set straight.

Our relationship has grown by bounds in the last few years, making up for much lost time. I look forward to time spent with him now. Each time I return to my hometown for a visit I make sure to set a golf date with Dad. Even if my golf game is limited to those two or three times each year, I know it makes him happy, especially with my handicap being double his. And each time I hear a new golf joke I call him immediately, so he can tell all his buddies at the next tournament.

At one time one of my favorite songs was Cat's in the Cradle. It accurately spoke of my relationship with my father. It is a story about a son growing up who asks his father to spend time with him, but the father says he can't. At the end of the song the tables are turned. The son is grown up, with a family and obligations, and the father asks his son to spend some time with him. The son replies "Sorry, but I've grown up just like you dad, I've grown up just like you." I have grown up like my father in many ways, but one manner I call my own, I spend time with him.