The Difference Between “Dad” and “Father”

My father was a large man.  6’5″, usually around 300lbs.  Dark hair, dark eyes, he showed every bit of the Lebanese portion of his heritage, and nary any of his German heritage.  But for as large and menacing as he could be, he was a poor figure of a man.  A womanizer, he screwed around on mom without regard for anything other than animal desires.  In addition he would not think to long on abusing his child, usually rationalized as “funny” (like when he would pop me with a towel to entertain his friends).

By the time I was 5 mom had decided that she had enough (there was a breaking moment, but we don’t need to go into that…lets just say I was involved) and decided to divorce.  She had a good career started in banking, and he was a prodigiously talented sales man.  Her life of upper middle class comfort had to be left behind so that she could provide emotional stability for me.  For this, I am eternally grateful to her.

It was hard for her, and my fathers complete absence (I saw him maybe 10 times between the age of 5 and 10) and lack of child support payments (he died owing her around 25k in back child support), but she worked hard, sacrificed a lot, and gave me all she could.  My mother is truly my saint.

But a boy needs a male influence, to teach him to be a man.  The lack of male influence in my life has shaped the man I am today, very much masculine but not afraid of sensitivity.  I prefer the company of females because they are easier for me to understand.   But this digression aside, I did need a male role model.  Of course, my mother spent much of her time working, so it was only natural that she would meet someone at work.  A true “diamond in the rough” if ever there was one.

My future stepfather was a roughneck that was well known by the local trashy women in the local circuit of bars.  He was married, but separated, and loved his beer just as much as he loved his women.  He was a mess.  But beneath the messy exterior was a man who was honest and had a very strict moral code that he lived by.   Sure he liked to drink and cuss, but he would never lay a hand on me or my mother (my own disciplinary measures aside).  And he was duty driven.  Was he the best man available?  Surely not…but he sufficed for the lessons I needed to learn in life about loyalty, honesty, duty, integrity, and respect.

I was around 12, and it was a rough start for us.  I was very confrontational with authority, and I gave him hell.  He over reacted to my “jackass” stubbornness and tried to break my spirit.  That is not something that can be done, so far.  So it was rough.  Rough enough that I chose to go live with my father.

Like I said, my father was a real piece of work.  While he liked to drink and womanize (like my stepfather), he also was dishonest and had no loyalty.  By this I mean, he could walk away from anyone and any relationship without remorse and second thought.  I have some of this myself, but do not allow myself to be unloyal to I truly care for (my mother, wife, kids, and this 1 friend I have in San Antonio….been like a brother for 20 years).  But this further digression aside, I got to spend a year living with my father, forging memories that have remained clear with me up through my adult years.  Without details, lets just say it ended up with me running away to my grandfathers house, and moving back with my mother the next day (running away was my only option, and my grandfather had to defend me forcefully before I could get out of El Paso that next morning).

This is the turning point in my life.  This is where the first lightbulb in my head clicked on.  The emotionally troubled child was thrown on the floor and left behind like the needless baggage that it was.  I realized that I was my own worst enemy.  Much of it had to do with me being hard headed.  The mindset of “why should I if I don’t want to” was my primary logic grid.  I realized that this did not work, and that if I wanted to keep my mother from being miserable, as well as myself, that I had to learn to compromise.   Of course, I think the same happened with my stepfather, because he really did put a lot of effort into improving our relationship.

I had to learn to not expect.  For example, growing up without a dad, I expected that dads would play catch after work (like on Leave It To Beaver, the main role model I had for a father-type).  My stepdad was a roughneck, and certainly didn’t want to stand in 110 degree heat after work to play catch with me.  To be honest, it was completely unfair of me to expect that, and that realization really changed the level of effort I put into the relationship.

So as I developed into a man, my stepdad was there.  Glaringly imperfect, rough hewn, and often dorky.  He was there.  When I was playing under the Friday Night Lights in Tahoka, and mom was sick, my stepdad showed up at the game with his mother law (my grandmother).  He was there.  When I was at the state powerlifting meet, knowing I was outclassed and just wanting some moral support, he was there.  He didn’t show for every little event in my life, but he showed for what mattered.

When I was in trouble, he would help get me out.  When I needed a car for my 16th birthday and he couldn’t afford one, he made a way and made it happen.  Not one single night did I go hungry, and not one single night did I have dinner or go to sleep without knowing where he was.

Don’t get me wrong, it was not always roses.  He would get mad, he would yell and scream.  That was just him (me and my step sisters jokingly called him “Harvey Wallbanger”, although he was not one to hit things).  He was impatient, but showed me the value of hard work.  But despite his faults, he showed me the most important thing:  the difference between a “dad” and a “father”.  To use his words:

“Your father is the man that made you.  He was with your momma and made you.  But a dad is the man who raises you.  Your dad doesn’t have to be your blood relative.  He is just the man that loves you and raises you.”

Yes.  You were my dad.  Even though you could not just say, “I love you” to me, you showed it in your actions.  The pride you took in my accomplishments.  The love and respect you gave my mother.    The way you shared your money, your home, and your wisdom with me.  You taught me so much growing up, most of all how to be loyal.

My step dad, no…my dad died from asbestosis several years ago.  I often hear of the “famous last words” of people.  I noticed a friend posted a blog on that topic today (which made me think of my dad, and I cried over losing such an important part of mine and my mothers life).  My dad taught me the final lesson with his last breath.  He taught me the one thing that burns in the sky, guiding my life.  He taught me to love and be loyal to my wife.  To treat her with the gentle love he gave to my mother.

On his last day he had just come out of the restroom and went to lay back down in bed.   He had been so very sick, and was not out of bed often.  As he laid back down my mother was helping him.  He was very weak.  As he reclined, he took his last breaths.  His final words were, “I love you.”

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13 Responses to “The Difference Between “Dad” and “Father””

  1. Reveille Says:

    Beautiful and truthful. I love you son.

  2. Very beautifully written!

  3. Beautiful. You are such a gifted mind and could have easily made the low points in your life the crutch. You overcame it and moved past it. I learned a lot that I never knew from this and I know I never tell you but I love you. Due to the large age gap between us, I missed out on the “bonding time” but your amazing. I am grateful to call you Brother.

    • awww, gee….thanks.

      now if only i could be worthy of that. 🙂 I WILL keep trying, though.

      • You are more than deserving of that. Your a wonderful man and I have never met a person that talks poorly of you. Your authoritative but understanding and your kids are so intelligent, you are doing an amazing job.

  4. Thanks for sharing this pretty post.

  5. I read your article from start to finish, very enlightened, but there are a lot of not really understand them, time and study it

  6. Thank you both for taking the time to come by and read it.

  7. i like your articles a lot and will be excited to read more

  8. Its Definitely good bookmarking for future reference.

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