Last week, on the dawn of his fifty-seventh birthday, I began to write some of these things down. I’m not sure what inspired me to do it; perhaps it was my lack of finances that made any other present impossible.
Maybe, I’ve begun to think, it was the fact that I had just turned 22 years old, graduated college and started to be retrospective.
Most likely, it is the same reason I do much of my writing: for fear that if I don’t now, I won’t ever. And how can one read the un-written? How could my dad know things I’ve thought about him but never expressed?
The first thing that I wrote down on my list of “things I never said to my dad” was that I loved him. Sure, I had said the words “love thee” when we got off the phone. Certainly, I had signed emails and cards with the words “Love, Isaac.” But in all of those 22 years, had I actually told him that I loved him? It shocked me to think that I hadn’t, and after 8,034 days of being silent on the issue, I think it’s time.
I love thee, dad. Not in the way I love a girlfriend or the Redskins or the blinking cursor in a Word document. No, I love thee in the way that a lion loves his pride. I love thee with a violent confidence that when we’re together I am safe, that my dad knows this world better than any man. I love thee in a way that a soldier loves another man in his platoon.
Encompassed in this love are the things I’ve never said, the things I’ve always thought and either kept to myself or denied out of arrogance.
I never told my dad that carrying his last name made me proud. I never told him the way I’d get goose bumps when I read “Saul” on the back of my jersey right before putting it on for a big game.
I never told my dad how much I loved being in a room full of people and knowing he was speaking to me because he said “thee, thy or thine” instead of “you, your or yours.” I never told him that when I heard these words used by his brothers and sister and their children that I’d expand with joy and love. I never thanked him for giving me a wild and adventurous extended family that has filled me to the brim with memories.
Despite pretending to hate it when I was a kid, I never told my dad how him reading me the newspaper out loud every morning before school sparked my obsessions with writing, sports and journalism.
Even though I spent years screaming for him to stop, I never told him how his neatly trained voice could put me to sleep or make me laugh uncomfortably because it was always surprisingly in tune.
I never told him that the lessons he taught me about moving with the flow of traffic have saved me from being late for countless job interviews, parties, classes and sporting events. I never told him that even though it used to terrify me (and it still scares most), his driving was the only one I’d trust if I needed to get somewhere in a third of the time it actually took to get there.
I never told my dad that even after four years of college, my favorite mornings were the ones that started with his voice yelling up to me from the kitchen to come down for breakfast.
I never told him that he makes the best salmon dish I’ve ever had – and that I don’t know anyone who has tried it and would say differently.
Even though it is the punch line of a few good jokes, I never told my dad that his shiny bald head actually looks pretty bad ass every now and then.
I never told him that despite all the shit talking, after all these years, I still couldn’t muster the bravery to stand up to him physically. Despite hating the reality more than I care to admit, I never told him that I am (still) scared of his old man strength.
I never told him that his backrubs are unrivaled.
I never told him that even though I bitch and moan when he plays the penny whistles to the radio and drives with his knees, it is still one of the first things I tell people about him. I certainly never told him how everyone who has ever driven with him cited these in-motion-jam-sessions as one of the most ridiculous things they’d ever seen.
I never told my dad that when he put a Frisbee in my hands before I could walk he changed my life for the better. I never told him that he is the only reason I ever found a sport I loved unconditionally, that the little 175 grams of plastic he introduced me to has given me countless friends that I now call family.
Last year, after winning my first college Ultimate National Championship, I never told my dad how thankful I was to cry in his arms. “That’s another one,” he said with a cracked voice into my ear.
I never told my dad that I play better with him on the sidelines. I never told him that through two Eastern Championships, four State titles, a World Championship, a College National Championship and countless other wins and losses it was his voice that kept me centered. Amongst all the spectators and teammates, I never told him that I always heard him over everyone else. I never told him that he has always known the right thing to say when I’m on the field.
Perhaps more importantly than anything else, I never told my dad that he inspires me to be better. For anyone that has ever had a conversation with him, you’d know my dad does not accept things without proof of their quality. He will not sit here and tell you we have the best country in the world because he sees too many flaws in it. He wouldn’t tell you that the GPS bitch that seems to always be recalculating knows a faster way than he does because he doesn’t believe she does. He wouldn’t tell you that money meant happiness because he’s seen the dollar sign dance with evil.
I never told my dad that even though he can be a crazy, angry old bastard, if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t understand injustice. Even before I knew what the words meant, my dad was telling me about racism, sexism and classism. If it weren’t for my dad, I’d probably think the United States was the only country in the world and not much else mattered; my dad was the first person to suggest to me that we needed to work together on this planet if we truly had a chance at surviving in a reasonable life.
I never thanked my dad for helping put me through college, even though he could have given up after my two older brothers had graduated. I never told my dad that even though the road hasn't always been smooth, he couldn't have chosen a better woman to mother his children.
I never told my dad that he showed me common sense was neither common nor sensible. It is something that needs to be taught, and I like to think he gave it to me.
Above all else, I never admitted to my dad that we’re more alike than I let on. It isn’t pleasant for a child to come to this realization about his or her parent, but it is a realization that can bring clarity to your life. Just like me, my dad is a liberal, Frisbee-obsessed, writerly inclined, overly-sensitive Washington Redskins die-hard. Just like me, my dad is rooted in a diverse region and addicted to incredible stories.
I never told my dad that just like him, I am a Saul.
For the birthday of mi padre and with the hope that I can encourage you to say the things you’ve never said while you still have the chance.