Sunday, June 15, 2014

To our Dads...

There is little doubt that the men (or women) we become is largely shaped by our Fathers (and Mothers, but then, today is Father's Day). Whether we want to admit it or not, when we grow up we become our parents.

I am reminded of a line from Harvey Firestein's "Torch Song Trilogy" that has served me well throughout my life. Harvey turns to his Mother and says something like this: "Mom, when I am faced with a problem, I think of how you would handle it--and then I do exactly the opposite." 

Now mind you, I look at life and reflect on how both of my parents would face a problem, and in nine cases out of 10, I would do exactly as they. Good people that they are (or were), I often look to them for guidance. Lead by example, ya know?

Dad, Grandma Valda, my Mom and baby me on Christmas Day 1957.

My father Douglas Robert Mappin left us on March 23, 1985 at the age of 47. He was too damned young to be leaving a wife and eight kids behind. I'm sure Dad would have said the same of his dad Robert (who also died at the age of 47). 

I can honestly say everything I am is because of Dad. Dad was a great father and grandfather and a good son. 

He was hardworking. For a good number of years he worked three jobs (as a tool and die maker, a small business owner and a First Sergeant in the Indiana National Guard). With seven boys and one daughter, he toiled to make a good home for his kids. I suspect we kids would have cared little if we had had a little less so that we could have had more time with him.

Dad (second from left) at his workshop, probably around 1978.

Dad was curious about life, he was athletic and a craftsmen. Dad had a small shop to build furniture. He loved assembling models (apples do not fall far from the tree). He loved being out of doors. He loved taking his pontoon boat with we kids and Mom out on Lake Manitou. He loved to fish. If the air was fresh and there was sunshine, you could be Dad was there.

I gained my social conscious from my Dad. I am, like my Dad and like his father and his grandfather before him, a lifelong Democrat. He believed in ensuring everyone have an equal opportunity to a better life. Dad was the president of his local UAW union in his shop. He seriously believed that unions was the answer to ensure all his co-workers be treated equally. 

I remember with pride that Dad was a jungle warfare expert. Dad was so proud of Bryan when he joined the United States Air Force and later when Teresa joined the National Guard. If he had lived, I am sure he would have been similarly proud of Rob  when he enlisted in the Army. My Mom told me once not long after I joined the Navy Reserve, "Your father would be very proud of you right now."

I can still recall sitting on the plane enroute to New Orleans for Navy mini-boot camp and hearing her words. I sat there crying wishing Dad could have seen me then. Dad and I once sat in a local Rochester pub and he asked me why wouldn't I join the military. I knew he would have liked to have seen his eldest child sharing in his dream of defending our nation (at the time, I just couldn't do it as a gay man. President Clinton later made that possible, if only Dad had lived to have seen it).

After my parents divorced in 1967, Dad did all that he could to remain a part of our lives. We four from his first marriage knew he loved us. He may not have been a part of our daily lives but we all knew he was but five miles and a phone call away.

Dad loved a good laugh, was quick to a joke and not above playing a prank or two. On the day I married back in 1975, Dad and Abe (my father-in-law), for an hour or so, refused to leave Phyllis and I alone--both jokingly muttered about "not letting us defile one another in matrimony." Our Moms had to come to our rescue to save that day. 

Dad was an only child and in the years of my youth, he was a doting son. When Grandma Valda's condition (Parkinson's Disease) became more and more pronounced. He did the best he could to see that her medical needs were well-tended. 

Dad never got to see his last four boys graduate from high school. He never got to see any of us become the adults we are today. I do know he was proud as could be when I began school. He told me he wasn't in a position to offer financial aid for my education but he would be there for me if I needed him. I was gratified he offered but really, I was 27 at the time, why should he be responsible?

For all of the great things that I can say about Dad, I wish I could say even more. Dad was robbed of the opportunity to see Rob, Chris, Scott and Matt grow into the great men they became. Except for my son Wes, Dad was robbed of meeting his grandchildren. 

Each of my siblings (except Chris) have had children who never got to know the wonderfully wise man he was--and oh how the grandkids would have loved him! Teresa, Bryan, Mike, Rob, Chris and Matt's kids were robbed of the opportunity to have known him. Even my son Wes barely remembers him.

I wish we could see the man at age 77 and I wonder how life would have treated him. I'm sure he would have done well. 

In 2008, while I was serving in Afghanistan, journalist Ann Allen interviewed me for a piece in The Rochester Sentinel. Not long after that, one of the finest compliments I have received in my life came from a man who served with Dad in the National Guard. He said I sounded "just like my Dad." Frankly, I was honored to be mentioned in the same breath.

If I have but one regret in life, it is that we never told each other "I love you." Men just did not say such things back in the day. BUT I know he knew it (and I knew it too)... That lesson has not been lost on me... my son and I tell each other that daily.

In any case, this is a loving tribute to the man we knew. Dad, we love you. We miss you... and we honor you today. Happy Father's Day, Dad.