Curious where I was every Sunday during my childhood? I can tell you.
I was on my front porch eating Pillsbury Cinnamon rolls while watching the world drift by with my Dad. We had a small front yard with a maple tree that towered over the house. As a kid, I would’ve argued that this tree put the skyscrapers of NYC to shame, and probably even that mountain called Everest that I read about in my encyclopedia because it was SO tall that it had friends up in the clouds. There was also an ugly shrub that never looked healthy, but some ducks wandered under it once and decided to stay for the summer so I named them Patrick and Claire. I fed them Wonderbread and bird seed but I suppose they found a better shrub with better seeds and whole grain bread.
Every Sunday morning, I’d jump right out of bed and run downstairs where I’d find my Dad sipping his morning coffee. He was either sitting on our hideously green, floral patterned couch watching the news, or hunched over some papers in his office, punching the keys on one of those calculators with the paper reel. Above his desk, there was a photo of him with some other bikers standing with a man in a suit who looked very out of place. Eventually, I found out that the man in that photo was the Governor of NY. Once he heard the loud, frantic footsteps of a bucktoothed, wild child clobbering down the creaky staircase, he got up and went into the kitchen.
During the cold winter months when the porch wasn’t an option, we had a slab of finished wood we tucked in-between the TV stand and the wall. We had a dining room table, but that was reserved for homework and birthdays. The walls were covered with construction paper, art projects, and paper mâché turtles made out of styrofoam bowls. We also had a plastic bookshelf caving in from all the boards games, puzzles, and books we piled onto it.
My childhood was different than most, but I suppose every kid feels that way. I grew up with a single father who did an incredible job at making the best of the circumstances. He never made up stories to sugarcoat my mothers absence, he just celebrated the fact that he received cards on Fathers day and Mothers day. He never made an attempt to shelter me from the truth, like why no one else brought their Grandma to back-to-school night. Instead, he found ways to explain the complicated truths by shaping them into something unique to our family.
My Dad is a motorcycle lobbyist-turned carpenter, so while most kids spent their lives in the back of the family minivan, I spent most of mine on the back of a motorcycle or squished in the middle of a Dodge pick up. I’d always ask to play the Pokemon 2000 soundtrack, and he would always say “just one more song,” then proceeded to put on a 20 minute Pink Floyd song. One time, I brought one of his Frank Zappa cassettes to 2nd grade show-and-tell and felt confused when the teacher said “maybe another time!” when we clearly had enough time.
We don’t always see eye-to-eye and there are certain things that will always remain unresolved. Family dynamics are always influenced by a history of deeply rooted conflict and trauma – similar to regular trees, family trees have broken branches, or simply places where growth became impractical, but we often fail to acknowledge all the ways our misfit, family trees sustain life – just like that weird, ugly shrub in our front yard.
To this day, my Dad has never told me that I wasn’t capable of doing something, and he’s always pushed me to follow my bliss – even if that meant moving across the globe on a whim. He supported my decision to attend college, and subsequently drop out a year later… and recently again, when I updated him on my decision to double-major. He applauded my decision to buy a motorcycle in Vietnam without any lessons or experience, even as my stepmom yelled “she did WHAT!” in the background (Sorry for always giving you a fright, Sue). He even supported my determination to save the pandas from acid rain and deforestation after finding me sobbing into a National Geographic magazine when I was 8 years old. He gave me all the tools he used to navigate his own life without shaming me when I exchanged them for ones more applicable to my own approach to life. I don’t give him enough credit – he is my first hero and he always will be.
Sometimes I look at other families and I’m bewildered by all the traditions they have. How do you keep track of them all? Don’t they begin to feel more like an obligation rather than a celebration? I love my Dad, Sue, Joey, and Sage, and I suppose we’ll never know what its like to send out family Christmas cards with a photo of us in matching pajama sets, but honestly, I think we would collectively agree that that sounds like ducking hell. I’ll take Sunday morning cinnamon rolls and Pink Floyd radio trivia any day.
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