The author has learned some surprising lessons from Dad on how to control one’s mental demons.
My father is on my mind this morning. I’m meeting up with him at a meeting of business owners who hope to learn more about a subject I’ve written about extensively for CSO Magazine: The Massachusetts data protection law.
I find it odd that my father is reaching out to me for understanding on such a complex subject. I’m used to him giving me advice instead of asking for it.
And back when I was deep under the spell of OCD, his advice was the last thing on Earth I wanted.
A little background on Dad:
He was always the easy parent. If we kids asked him for something and he said “we’ll see,” it usually meant yes. He would fall asleep watching TV by early evening, while my mother was out with friends, giving us the run of the house.
I could always count on him to take me to the Osco Drug store in Lynn to buy a new Star Wars action figure every Sunday, followed by a trip to Friendly’s for some black raspberry ice cream. He knew that sometimes, when he was still asleep, I’d go in his wallet and grab myself some cash. But he never called me on it. Well, once he did, when I was in sixth grade. He called school looking for me because $100 was missing from his wallet. That time I wasn’t the culprit.
He runs a business in Saugus, Mass. that sells ladies shoes, gloves and all the other things girls go looking for when they need to dress for their prom or wedding. As a kid, I always felt like the business was his favorite child.
He worked hard and expected me to work hard. He didn’t like to see me resting. If he caught me doing so, he’d give me something to do. Rake the leaves. Take out the trash.
As a teenager with a chip on the shoulder the size of a baseball, I grew to resent this. I especially hated it when he’d make me do deliveries with him on the truck. I sucked at the manual labor thing, and he’d always be on me to lift boxes “with my legs, not my back.” Good advice, it turns out. But I didn’t want to hear it.
My friends and some ex-girlfriends remember him walking around the house in his saggy underwear, hairy belly and other things hanging out for all to see. He didn’t care. It was his house. But he was always nice to the friends, and they all in turn got a kick out of his lack of modesty.
He also keeps his emotions largely to himself. The only time I ever saw him cry was when my brother died.
As my mental health really started to come unhinged, he started to grate on me. If I got a promotion at work, he’d ask how much of a raise I got. I’d tell him. He’d reply with a “That’s it?” I think my habit of indulging in OCD behavior through my work was a result of that. He also has terrible eating habits that have led to a variety of health problems. Much of my binge eating is inherited from him. He’ll down a large tray of stuffed cabbage or a box of frozen Devil Dogs as naturally and as easily as most of us take a breath. I’m pretty sure he’s part shark.
But as I approach my 40th birthday, I’m really starting to appreciate the guy and everything he taught me. I started to feel this way a long time ago, actually, but now that I’m keeping this blog, the memories are more vivid and the appreciation is in better focus.
I used to see his stiff upper lip as a weakness; the result of cold emotions. But I’ve learned the value of keeping a stiff upper lip when times are tough. And I’ve realized that it’s not the result of something cold. I think it’s more a case of him trying to be strong when people around him are falling apart.
He’s also far more giving than he might admit. If one of his employees is in a jam, he usually helps them out of it. I remember when one employee, his wife pregnant, needed a little extra financial help. My father gave it, but was quick to say something to the effect of, “I’m paying for this kid and I didn’t even get to have any fun.” I laughed hard when that employee told me about it. He laughed hard, too. Some of my humor comes from him, no doubt.
I’ve also come to appreciate his work ethic instead of being insulted by it. As I’ve gotten over my fear and anxiety in recent years, I’ve come to see work as one of the most honorable responsibilities one can have. Your providing for family and, if you’re lucky like me, you get to do something you love that just happens to be important as well. He certainly provided for his family. He still does. Without his prodding, I’m not sure I would have had the career success I’ve had.
I also love to watch him with my kids. They are always at ease around him, and Duncan will grab his security blanket and sit with him. The kids have always been good judges of character.
People ask me if he was upset when I converted from the Jewish Faith to Catholicism. He wasn’t upset at all. In fact, he likes to tell people that those of different religious stripes are really going to be surprised when they die and discover that it’s the same God for everyone.
The old man has been through a lot. He watched one of his children die and watched two more go through all kinds of mental and physical hurt. His marriage to my mother collapsed and was probably doomed from the start. He’s suffered a lot of illness himself.
Yet he still stands tall, even with the bad back and the bad knees. He’s taught me a lot about pressing forward despite life’s demons.
I thank him for that.