Dear old dad.
I’m very blessed and fortunate to have one of the good ones, although it took five adoring children, a loving and patient wife, and many years of trials and tribulations to properly train him. And being that he did arrive into the world of parenthood with less than optimal examples to model his own behavior after, he is a grand man of amazing success, with a loving and caring demeanor, and an exquisite sense of fairness and resolve.
His journey, at the age of 84, was like many in his generation. He came from a very large family. His mother was twice married, the first marriage ended when her husband was murdered after he moved his family from Italy to Detroit to take work in the new country as a blacksmith.
Tragically, he was murdered in a robbery when they arrived leaving my grandmother with three children, with no understanding of America. No concept of the English language and nowhere to turn.
After being widowed for just a few short months, and after meeting just one person in this country who helped her navigate this new world for her and her children, it was arranged that she marry a man 27 years her senior for obvious reasons.
My grandfather Trupiano, who died many years before my parents even met, was also widowed. His wife, having died from cancer at a young age, leaving him with three children as well, was a bitter and unhappy man who made a living selling produce off a horse-drawn cart out of the Eastern Market.
The arrangement, and that is what it was, was for them to meet, a date of sorts, and to marry as soon as possible. They did meet and they did marry, mostly out of convenience for them both. She needed a provider and he needed a nanny. No, it is not a story of great romance and a sweeping tale of two unfortunate people finding each other and joining together in love and respect to have a wonderful and vibrant life together,. If only that were true.
But, in the early 1910s this was a reality of too many immigrants who found themselves in a situation where life dictated how you lived and survived. Many of these couples learned and experienced each other and found a way to love and respect their marriage and their familiarity and time sealed a path forward. But too many of them just coexisted. Although my grandparents ended up having seven children together, it was not a relationship based in mutual respect and love. The seven children they had together and the six they bought to this arrangement was anything but easy.
Living in squalor and poverty, the Trupiano family barely got by and their diet consisted of all of the produce he didn’t sell on any particular day. Most of that was bruised or nearly rotten by the time it got to their house and their kitchen. Protein in their recipes was a rarity. It was mostly pasta with any kind of vegetable he brought home and what few spices they had in the pantry. My grandfather, as told to me by my dad and his siblings, felt very much a victim and had a VERY large chip in his shoulder.
To listen to my aunts and uncles talk about their days growing up in that house is a journey of disbelief and varied points of view. There is an underpinning of anger and disappointment, but also stories of joy and discovery. They have all enjoyed sharing their childhood stories, in spite of their difficulties, and in each other found some joy, community, opportunity, and love.
I share this all with you because Father’s Day was not something that this family relished. My grandfather was not a good man, was not a mentor, and was not a good role model. To a child, not one of them can EVER remember him smiling or being in a good mood. Not one of them can speak of a special moment or a time when he comforted them or showed them any expression of acceptance or encouragement, unlike my grandmother, who was a gift to the world. What they all became, and I can sincerely tell you that they were all good, honest, accomplished, and loving people, was the result of my grandmother and her ability to infuse into them all that what their lives were to become was of their doing and that no matter what hand you were dealt, they must make the most of it.
My youngest uncle (now 81) was the only one to graduate from college. In fact, he was the only child to graduate from high school, and in fact was the only one to go beyond the 10th grade. My dad has a third grade education and to this day is one of the most intelligent, successful, and visionary thinking people I have ever known (and I am blessed to know many smart, savvy, and well-educated people.)
Although there are only four of them now left, because I come from a family-centric place both my mom and dad were insistent that we spend a lot of time with our relatives for many years. None of us were strangers to each other and there are many gifts in that, I assure you.
Again, I share this with you to understand that not all dads are alike and not all dads have an example that they can be proud of and use to develop to shape their parenting skills and ideas in our and their lives.
My dad was not perfect. He was a great provider but was not too terribly good, at first, of being accessible and caring. Although he was kind, for the most part, he was not easy to get to know and as he worked his ass off for many years, we did not see a lot of him. When we did he was often quite tired and often times a little less than patient. But he was not mean and was never abusive or hateful. He was NOT his father.
As I said, over time we trained him and he us, to come together and eventually we did find our way to have what all families want: Love, respect, awesome memories, caring, and gratitude. He was, and still is, about family and if you were to ask him what the one thing he is most proud of is, it is that his children all understand and appreciate what family is and does. My sisters and I (my brother died some years ago) are VERY close. We are friends before we are family. We enjoy each other and love each other so much. Dad has become our touchstone and is truly the center of our lives and his examples, his love, his mentorship, and his guidance makes us all richer and more appreciative of what we have.
I know all too many people where dad is a word, not a symbol. I know way too many people where mom was mom and dad and that is absolutely OK. But, when we boil it down, we know that the same people that were raised by a family, as most of us are, but not a dad, always feel that something was and is missing. I gratefully will never know that feeling and my children will never know that feeling, mostly because I knew how important my dad was to me and I have made sure I have been there for my children. I was bound and determined that my children would know who I am. They will know I was in their lives and they know that I will never judge them, will provide guidance, give them direction when asked, demand from them when needed, and step back when necessary. But you have to be there first before any of that can happen.
Many of the men on my life have been good, decent, loving, and caring men. My uncles, my parents’ friends, and the many people in my working and social life are very good dads. They are wonderful examples of what fatherhood is and should be, and for that I am blessed as well.
Dad should never be about ego.
Dad should never be about measuring or marking.
Dad should always be about giving, taking, sharing, loving, learning, comforting, guidance, teaching, compassion, and growth. Dad should be about surrendering to the reality of life and about the shared experience of experiences, mistakes, getting it right, inner peace, difficulties of watching a child grow, and seeing them do well. And to also see them fail, sometimes in spite of knowing that they could have avoided a mistake or an unnecessary path.
My sister Ann Marie told me before I was married and had children that you will be amazed how much you can love another person and be disappointed by that same person, sometimes in the same hour! Oh, how right she was.
The role of dad hasn’t really changed much over the centuries. The responsibilities have changed to some degree and the involvement has to an extent, as well. Dads do change diapers and do watch their children (I loath the idea of “babysitting” for your own children) and they are more involved, for the most part, than they once were. But the job, the goal, is about what it always was.
For those who have been good, even great dads, thank you. For those who are a work in process, as we all are to some extent, keep on keeping on. And, for those of you who have either walked away from your children, or for some reason not afforded the opportunity to be with your children, keep working on that as well.
It is never too late to be a dad and it is never too late to admit your mistakes. Because if there is one thing I know to be an absolute truth, it is this: your kids, no matter what the relationship you have or have had, good or bad, just want to be loved. They need to be validated and they are NOT looking for you to be perfect. They are looking for you to be there. It is not that hard to just be there. So, if you are feeling like you can and should do more or that you need to make up for your past or your present mistakes, take every day as an opportunity to do just that.
For years my dad and I barely talked for a variety of reasons. But we both worked at it and, as a result, he is the most important person in my life and that will never change. Had either one of us given up, I would not have been writing this. And I can honestly say that I am that the dad I am today is because of the dad he is today. We have learned much form each other and continue to do so.
Dad, I love you with all of my heart and I pray you know that. I also believe that the challenges we have had over the years gave us the blessed, warm, and special friendship and relationship we have. Despite the disappointments, work, and misunderstandings we have shared over the years; the fights, the yelling, and the lost hope, we were able to find each other again and have blossomed from that. That happened not because of my efforts; it was because of yours. I didn’t see it that way at the time, but I clearly do now. You have been the kindest, most generous, and loving dad a son could ever want and my ONLY regret is that it took me longer to see that than it should have. Because you were a dad first, then a counselor, then a guide, and then a friend, we found a way to connect and shape what we now share into a real and loving relationship.
Respect doesn’t come close to how I feel, but it’s a good start and I will continue on the path to proving it to you over and over again. I am 54 years old and your opinion still matters and always will matter. For those who don’t see the wisdom in that or think that it creates a dependency or some other issue, I don’t care.
Dad, I do love you with all my heart. Thanks for being the man you are and the man and dad you helped me to become. My prayer is that my children get some of that in their lives and see how we love and respect each other and what can all be because of that example we live. If I have given my children even 10% of what you have given me, then I have already succeeded more than I thought I ever could, and without you, that would have never happened.
Happy Father’s Day to you all and Be Well!