"Anxiety," I replied.
He laughed and said, "Boy, what do you know about anxiety?"
Knowing how stressful it is for my father to keep his strangely large small business alive, I would never argue that my life has near the stress as his. He spent another hour working at the office later that day.
"I still know how it feels, Dad!" I dramatically responded. "I'm not saying it's justified, but the feeling is the same!"
My dad laughed.
When he was my age (28), my dad had four kids and I was 7 years old. Now this is a justifiably anxiety-producing concept, but the crazy thing is that he and my mom had a baby before they had me, but Adam Cross died three days after he was born.
My parents either thought having a baby when they were 20 and 19, respectively, was a good idea or they continued to be careless on the contraceptive front the following year and every other year until their fourth child, Valerie, came along. Maybe they were hoping one of the lot would become a gifted athlete or child performer and they'd retire early.
When I think back to my dad as a young father, I'm impressed by his balance of strictness, leadership and trust. (It should be noted that my feelings about my dad as a parent also reflect those toward my mother and these two collectively.)
When my dad's friend gave me my first job packing small computer parts when I was 15, pops told me he wanted me to be the best worker his friend had.
I sincerely doubt that actually happened, but the concept kept me from slacking off as much as I probably would have. His expectations gave me a different standard than simply doing as well as the other workers.
He always treated my brothers and me like we were real people and not just spoiled, ungrateful, unconscious jackasses -- even when we were caught stealing hood ornaments off cars or shooting a BB gun in the house. It probably helped that our little sister never really made a mistake.
My brothers and I still sometimes reminisce about how badly it hurt when Dad would sit us down, light a cigarette and tell us how disappointed he was in us. Those long, drawn-out talks unleashed our natural feelings of sadness, regret and disappointment and prepared us to take responsibility for our actions.
In honor of Father's Day, I've put together a list of events and actions that will support my dad as an honorable leader of three boys and one girl and as a contributor to and reflection of his children's talents, interests and playfulness:
The first time I heard my dad curse was during fifth grade when I mentioned that some kids at school were picking on another kid. On our back deck my dad rather dramatically said, "You tell those kids if they fuck with him, they fuck with you."
When my baseball team received fancy hand-me-down uniforms from a select team during middle school, our free fishnet hats looked terrible. My dad bought hats for the entire team.
My dad once found a Spider-Man costume at our house and wore it to an Indiana casino. He tried to get a new player's card picture taken while wearing the mask. The casino wouldn't let him wear the mask on the boat, so he played cards all night wearing only the tight one-piece Spider-Man suit.
During a late-night kitchen hangout a couple years ago, my dad smoked cigarettes next to the stove and drank beer with my brother and me and some of our friends. The clocked passed 3 a.m.
"Dan, please go lie down," Mom pleaded.
My dad flexed both his biceps muscles, pointing back and forth to each of them while yelling, "This shit don't lie down! This shit don't lie down!" He then ripped open his collared shirt, sending buttons flying all over the kitchen.
My dad's belly poked through the top of his one-buttoned shirt while he hung out with us for another couple drinks.
Since Father's Day of last year my dad has paid one of my two student loans for me. While I was in school I often borrowed money from private student loan sources so I didn't have to burden my parents with the cost of college life. My lifestyle was mostly play and little work then, and considering how hard they've always worked I felt like I should stay out of their pockets.
Today my lifestyle is still mostly play -- even though I have a full-time job -- but the costs are trickling down to them once again. My parents don't like to hear about my anxiety or worries, and they don't judge my privileged existence nearly as harshly as I do.
They simply aid and support and love -- an impressive parenting philosophy for a couple of teenagers from the West Side.
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