To this day, I can’t hear the song “The Boxer” without thinking of my dad. The latest was a collaboration done by Emmylou Harris and Mumford and Sons that I had it on repeat as I drove into work this morning. Growing up, my dad introduced us to all kinds of music, from Journey to Mozart and Handel. I can still remember sitting in the seat of his semi listening to “Faithfully” and not realizing at the time how fitting the words were in our situation. As a truck driver, he was on the road all the time and when he was home, he drank enough to be “cool” and played the role of father, never giving us a look at who he really was. By the time I moved out, I knew my dad loved music and was a Red Sox fan and still had an East Coast accent that would keep up with anyone from Boston.
It wasn’t until he had a stroke five years ago, that my dad became a family man. He was always good at taking care of us before, but I never knew anything about him other than the person he let us see. I didn’t know his past other than he was born in Holland during the war and immigrated to New Hampshire and didn’t learn to speak English till he was ten years old. I remember driving to Florida for my grandmother’s funeral and on the way home he didn’t eat because there was only enough money left to feed my sister and me. What I didn’t know was he almost didn’t go to the funeral because his mom was never really a mother to him. She kicked him out on the street when he was 14 because she didn’t want him, or that after the state made her take him back, he hitchhiked cross country to catch the family when his mom and brother left him behind. He made it as far as Illinois before he stopped and got his first job as a driver with a gentleman that had picked him up along the way. He has worked every day since then.
Those are the sad memories, the ones that I can understand why he didn’t share. But along with those, he started to share the good ones too. When he was at the juvenile home, he got to serve the governor of New Hampshire at a state dinner. When he was younger, he worked with his dad making bread at his small restaurant. When he was 18, he bought his first convertible. He was airborne in the Army, dated a woman named Esperanza in Mexico. Wooed my mother in Sequoia National Park and started his own family. All bits and pieces of what made him the man I knew and I was finally getting to see that.
He changed with us too…in a wonderful way. He was no longer the cocky man I knew, who stayed just on the edges of our family. He was now involved, caring, devoted. He actually loved the kids, not just tolerated them. He has turned into this amazing dad who still loves music, but now he tells us about the first time he heard a song or why it means so much to him.
I have a lot of memories of and with my dad, some happy, some painful. I have some resentment for growing up with an alcoholic father and the challenges that came with that, something I’m still working through. That aside, I have some wonderful memories of time spent with him. Being on the road with him and driving towards the Rockies for the first time, or driving through Utah at night and thinking the Salt Flats glowed in the dark, talking on the CB and making fun of other drivers. Things that make me smile when I remember them.
A lot of my memories have songs attached to them and when I hear that song it transports me back in time. But “The Boxer” and “Faithfully”, those songs encompass my dad. Those are the songs that evoke the most emotional response. I picked up a lot of things from my old man. I am sarcastic to a fault, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I cry at movies (yes, this from the King of Cool), I can bullshit all day long, I can’t carry a tune but I’ll belt out Journey with the best of them. I’ve always done those things, but now when I do them, I can look at my dad and know a little more about the man I got those traits from and know that whatever his faults, he’s trying to be the best dad he knows how to be.
I may not agree with a lot of the choices he made and I will probably always carry some hurt and pain from growing up the way I did, but now my head knows that there’s a reason he was broken and that a lot of his path was just him dealing with that the best way he could. I know he’s spent his whole life fighting the feelings of being unwanted and unloved and how much that messes someone up, especially a kid. I know, despite everything, my dad loves us and no matter what happens, “the fighter still remains.”