When I was a small boy, sometimes as the sun was setting and the summer song of the wood cicadas rose from the maples, my father would sweep me into his arms for an evening alone; just the two of us. He seemed so big to me, an otherworldly strong, smelling vaguely of soap as my head nestled against his white tennis shirt.
At Rollandia driving range, he would teach me to swing a golf club, with a later reward of chocolate milk from a vending machine in the run-down pro shop. Other evenings it was tennis lessons on the dark clay of our local courts, me wielding a sawed-off version of his Jack Kramer racquet.
Some days I would visit him at his office on the 25th floor of the Winter’s Bank Building; listening as he composed a legal brief into a Dictaphone that I would later play with for hours. In his suit and crisp white shirt, he looked like a young and vigorous president, and to me, he may as well have been.
And when my parents split up, when I found myself separated by a continent from my father, his distance made him loom larger, as my imagination filled in the blanks; what was he doing right now? Did he have a long trial today? Was he playing tennis? Was he thinking of me?
However, I did know that if I called on him, he would be there. He would always have my back. Sometimes to extremes.
Once, as he sat in a theater watching one of my early movies, a big college kid and his pretty girlfriend who were seated nearby, kept a running critique of my acting skills. They were loud enough that my dad could easily hear. Turns out the quite large and increasingly agitated young man was no fan of my work and he wanted to make sure his girlfriend knew it. Anyway, at some point in this particular movie of mine (I believe it wasThe Hotel New Hampshire), I had a love scene. This was simply too much for the young gentleman to bear and he blurted out something about me looking like a girl. The next thing the unsuspecting hulk knew, he was yanked out of his seat from behind and pinned to the theater wall.
“That’s my kid you’re talking about,” my dad told him, meaning business.
And after stumbling back to his seat, Mr. College let his girlfriend enjoy the rest of the movie in peace.
I think of events like this often and on Father’s Day, more so. I have sons of my own now, and the unsolvable puzzle of child-raising has me grateful for what few things I do know. And a lot of those things I realize more and more, I learned from my first teacher, my father.
Dad, I want to thank you for the lush and humid evenings with a golf club or racquet where I learned that just being together is sometimes all the communication a father and son needs.
Thank you for sharing your work with me, for allowing me to see your passion for your profession. It has rubbed off on me, and like you, I still have that fire in my belly.
And even in our years of distance, thank you for always holding me in your heart, as I now know you must have (to look at my own sons is to be certain of this). And for your guiding support when the time came to step away and let me follow my dreams (to look at my own sons is to pray I can do this). And finally on this Father’s Day, thank you for always, always, standing up for me. Even if it meant interrupting one of my love scenes.