Walsh’s Wonderings — Becoming Dad

Robert F. Walsh

It sneaks up on us. One day we’re staying out past curfew, reading Jack Kerouac and picking out our first tattoo; the next we wake up to see our dad (or mom) staring back at us from the bathroom mirror. The quirks and mannerisms we found ourselves rebelling against as kids somehow seep into our DNA with each passing year.

For me, it started with the nose. One could set a clock to it; every meal would end with my dad fishing around in his pocket and blowing a hearty Viking nose note into his handkerchief. It always embarrassed me when we’d go out to eat; it seemed so incongruous for this classy, mannered man to perform such a private bodily function in public.

It wasn’t until years after I’d left college that I began experiencing my sinuses filling up with fluid after every meal. Unable to shake my childhood revulsion, I couldn’t bring myself to carry a handkerchief. (I don’t believe bodily secretions should be saved and stored; I’m willing to sacrifice the environment for the sterility of disposal tissues.) I didn’t want to treat my dinner companions to what was becoming my nasal Dizzy Gillespie impression. Instead, I’d sneak off to the restroom to blow my nose just after I’d finished my plate, hurrying to return before the check arrived. Over time, my wife was no longer spared this performance.

I finally asked my mom what was happening to me. She revealed that my dad suffered from a common malady called “gustatory rhinitis.” It became the first of many medical issues we’d share, including high blood pressure, a bad back, and type 2 diabetes.

As I got older, I was becoming my dad in other ways. I began biting my tongue when I got angry and stuffing my golf bag with extra gloves, hats, sweaters, and umbrellas I knew I’d never need. I’d yell at the TV during Notre Dame games and defy my meticulous attempts at organization by curating numerous piles of papers across my office floor. I started to appreciate Tom Jones, for goodness sake.

Like Dad, I’ve become a generous tipper but hate when waiters try to clear the table the moment I finish the entrée. I’ll yell my wife’s name from across the house rather than walk a few steps to ask her something in a more congenial tone. I sneeze in great, thunderous groups of two or three, following by my own Viking-horn blows into balls of Kleenex that line my nightstand like fallen clouds.

I’ve even come around to my dad’s frustrating belief that “there’s no such thing as an accident.” I’ve caught myself using variations of this with my wife despite how much I disagreed with the premise as a kid. (It’s probably more of a justification of the low-level OCD my dad and I probably shared.)

This gradual transformation, while surprising, has never alarmed me. If I could be half the man my dad was, I’d be awfully proud. I think that’s what we, the lucky ones, come to appreciate over time: Those foibles that used to bother us become the endearing moments that highlight the depth of the people who raised us. For those of you old enough to see this cycle beginning with your own kids, I wish for your children to appreciate their own transformation early enough for you to lord it over them. For those of you too young to see this yet, keep your eyes open to all the wonderful parts of your parents you might be overlooking while focusing on what you don’t like.

Also, grab a copy of “Tom Jones, Live in Las Vegas.” You’ll thank me later.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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