“You must call me Mr. Incredible,” is what my dad used to tell us all the time. So of course, my brother and sisters would giggle and refuse, because it was a command, and a silly one. We thought it was hilarious for my dad to request something like that. As I got older, I thought that the request got old too. Why continue, knowing it wouldn’t happen? And why would you want us to call you after a balding, middle-aged superhero with a huge belly who runs around in red spandex (like, ew, please don’t, Dad). Well, Dad, this is me, finally calling you Mr. Incredible.
My dad is pretty awesome. He’s kind of a badass, but he’s also one of the nicest guys I know. It took me a long time to see it, but my dad is a much more complicated man than just what’s on the surface. I mean, we all are more complicated than our outer self would suggest, but I think my dad is more so than most. He’s both a nerd and a jock. He’s an intellectual who loves really stupid comedies. He can talk about the details of economics and calculus, or create awesome artwork. When we’re young, we’re taught to see things in black and white, even if we don’t realize it. But we’re all grey. My dad is grey.
My dad is Robin Hood, and Mr. Incredible, and The Iron Monkey, and Superman. Which is pretty cool, when you think about it.
As a kid, I only saw Superman, and this one had no kryptonite. But as I grew older I saw things like kindness, generosity, and compassion that I had never even thought to look for. I think I refused to call my dad Mr. Incredible, but I may have called him Mr. Crabbs at some point. Crusty on the outside, soft inside. (Love you, dad.)
My dad taught me that everything is not, in fact, black and white. He taught me to think about things on my own and not to take everyone else’s opinions and ideas at face value, even if they seemed to make sense at first. Even when they had evidence to back it up. I learned to ask questions, of everything. To observe, ask, and then find answers. I learned to analyze. He would talk about politics and other people and science and books in a way that I never heard other people talk about them. He talked about faults in people’s views, even when he agreed with most of what a person was saying, and talked about books that he liked, but also why he liked them, why the main character annoyed him, why it was a good story, and what he wished had been different. I heard him talk about things calmly, rationally, and without making the other person feel stupid if they disagreed.
Through this love of learning and discussion and analyzing, my dad was also the one who taught me to love books. When I was younger, we didn’t have cable TV. My dad didn’t let us sit in front of the TV very often, so we’d read. Ultimately, this has led to my ambition to be an author. He didn’t get upset if I stayed up until 6am on Saturday morning because I just didn’t know time was passing as I read a book. Because, hey, his kids love to read! I read everything I could get my hands on that had horses or dragons in it, and it was not long until I started trying to write my own stories. I didn’t show many of them to my dad, I don’t think, not because I was trying to hide them, but because I started writing just because it brought me joy, not because I wanted or needed others to read it. But when I’d show my writing to my dad, he always encouraged it. He told me I did a good job, but also told me when things didn’t make sense or were wrong. Whether it was artwork, writing, riding horses, or anything else, my dad was always there telling me that I was doing well, telling me to keep going, and that I should do something with my talents and dreams, even if they sounded crazy. It was always, “Of course you can do it,” along with a practical, “But you’ll have to work for it.”
Though my dad isn’t generous in the same way that my mom is, giving large things often, he is generous in other small ways that really do matter too. I didn’t realize how much those ways matter until I was on the receiving end of many of these actions as I prepared for my wedding day, and prepared to move out of my parents’ homes. My dad has worked hard all of his life so that he can give like no one else, and he does. My dad is generally quiet, both in speech and in action; in the sense that he’d rather be at home with a book than out partying (I got that from him). But he’s the kind of quiet that is approachable. It’s a steady quiet. I may not always have known it, but I can count on him to be there. I know I’m always welcome into his home, and I know there will always be a hug and a cup of tea and a silly comedy that we can laugh at way too hard. Not because the movie is that funny, but because the others’ reaction to some part of the movie or another will be priceless and we won’t be able to help ourselves.
I really don’t think that I’ll ever fully comprehend what fatherhood is like, because I will never be a father, but I am very proud to say that my dad influenced the type of man that I chose to marry (my husband is also incredibly smart and creative and opinionated and well-read and motivated and…so much more) and so I hope that one day when my husband and I have kids, I will get to witness fatherhood from the perspective of a wife, and maybe I’ll see something of what it was like for my dad.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that fathers really do matter, because I’ve seen the imprint my own father has left on me. I may not always understand it, but I can see it, and feel it. And for better or for worse, that imprint is with me until the day that I die, influencing and changing me.
Regardless of what else my dad is to me or to others, some part of me will always see the Mr. Incredible that I refused to acknowledge growing up.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Your oldest (and favorite) child.