Magazine article Newsweek

An Overdue 'Thank You' to My Dad: Media Portrayals of Fathers Are Often So Negative That We Forget to Pay Tribute to the Many Good Ones

Magazine article Newsweek

An Overdue 'Thank You' to My Dad: Media Portrayals of Fathers Are Often So Negative That We Forget to Pay Tribute to the Many Good Ones

Article excerpt

I stepped from my father's red Ford Probe outside the train station. Turning around to wave, I saw him tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he sang to the radio. He wore his plaid wool, made-in-Ireland hat with the button on top, his favorite style. The hat almost matched his shirt, which did not quite coordinate with his four-leaf-clover-patterned tie or the spring plaid pants he wore on this frigid November morning.

As he drove away, a rusted pickup roared into the lot, coming within inches of hitting him. The large and unhappy driver leaned out his window and began to yell. Though my father had the right of way, he politely waved to the man and smiled, unfazed by the indignant stream of profanities directed at him.

How one maintains a sense of peace, dignity and humor after having raised six children had only recently begun to baffle me. He had been driving me to the train station every morning since I had graduated from college and started work in Boston six months before. And though I had lived with him for 18 years, it wasn't until these daily commutes that I began to know him.

I learned of his first job, shoveling maggot-infested garbage from the back of a supermarket in Queens, N.Y.; that his favorite author is Graham Greene; that his hero as a child was Willie Mays. Everyday I heard a different story.

A new picture started to form, contrary to the one I had held growing up in a strict Roman Catholic household in a New England town in the 1980s. My high school was typical of schools in well-off communities: cliques of girls wearing their anorexia and bulimia on their sleeves; boys driving drunk; girls snorting cocaine at parties held while Mom and Dad were away.

Back then, I begrudged my parents every rigid rule I thought was rooted in their oppressive Catholicism. It was not until I began teaching high school that I saw what my father faced with the onset of each child's adolescence. In us, he confronted anorexia, teenage drinking, trips to the police station at 3 a.m., premarital sex, violent outbursts of hormones, rage at the world and a rejection of his faith.

Of course I do remember nights when his temper snapped. Perhaps I had been caught in a lie, perhaps I had spent four hours on the phone when I had been grounded from using it. Whatever my transgression was, I sat through the bulging-neck-vein tirade in shame, staring at a scratch on the floor. …

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