(Sally: Let someone else tell you about this story. It has some rather harsh language you may not approve of.)
As I begin this story, I am sitting in my south Florida bay home staring out the window at a rainstorm, which has just knocked out my power. I am writing this on a computer with only 26% battery power (which disappears quickly these days) before this, too, has lost its usability. The sounds of sirens are going off in the distance. I’m certain due to a wayward lightning strike, which has set a building of little import to most of society on fire. Beyond the large elm in my front yard, well past the stone walkway and the dogwood trees, an occasional car will pass down the road. The car drives ever so cautiously in the rain, certain to be looking out for any rain-soaked animals, or children, running from the lightning in fear, searching for shelter. The sky is an eerie grey, not the black of night one might expect from a storm powerful enough to send me searching for candles and a lighter. This sky is one of an early morning, an overcast morning that could be filled with potential and possibility. This night, however, does not feel full of potential. I find myself sitting here, staring out the window, thinking one thing: “I am really glad I already cooked dinner.”
This story has absolutely nothing to do with any of that. I simply wanted to let you know that I embrace the opportunity to write by the glow of candlelight (and also my backlit keyboard and the light from my monitor screen, but that’s not the point). I have done many things in my life simply for the dramatic effect. I often overreact, which causes me to make rash decisions that, while I don’t regret them, I look back and see they were unnecessary and only performed to express a certain flair by which I like to live my life. Sitting down to write this story by candlelight is yet another example I can provide of my histrionic activities. (Besides, I have no power and little battery life on my phone so I can’t watch the Red Sox game.)
No, this story will actually be quite quaint. (That’s called alliteration, kids. And a buzz word for short.) The reason this story will be short (and I actually mean it this time) is because many of its details are personal to me and the other person involved. I will keep many of them to myself because they are not the type of stories you share with the world. They are wonderfully special memories that can only be shared between two people as close as myself and the other person in the story. Basically, this is my love letter to said person. More accurately described as gratitude for this person being in my life. This is the story of my best friend.
I have often complained about how my life is filled with disappointment and crap luck. At a younger age, I believe I even compared myself to Job. (Did I mention histrionic?) In all honesty, though, every torturous thing I ever endured was brought on by my own decisions and my own mistakes. Do I wish I hadn’t made those mistakes? Not even a little bit. Every one helped make me the person I am today, and I like who I have become. Now I can see I blamed the wrong person, or people, for many years. The fact of the matter is every mistake was my own to make (just like everybody else’s in the entire world), and if there is any reason I turned out to be as decent of a person as I am, it is because of one man. Namely, my dad. Who I will call dad, because really? Why change his name? What am I going to call him? Don? Please.
Dad is a very special person. There is no way in which I could write how good of a person he is, even with the vast amounts of talent that I possess.
Growing up I was a brooding, self-obsessed teen (as most are). Now I am a narcissistic, sociopathic adult. (But I am no longer brooding. See, I can grow up.) Like many other teens, I could only see the fault in what my father did. In my eyes, he cared more about his legacy and how he appeared in the eyes of his wife, brothers, coworkers, friends, and daughters than he did in mine. Everything was a struggle because he refused to listen to reason. If he just listened to me more, life would have been so much easier on everyone. When he wouldn’t listen to the flawless logic I would lay out in front of him and then tell me I could stop arguing, because the answer was no, I would get angry. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t even consider the possibility that his way was incorrect. How obtuse could one man be? I would demand explanations, and I would get that same answer every child, teen, and young adult hates so very much: “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
Fuck that. I don’t want to understand when I’m older. I want to understand now, and if you can’t explain it to me, I am going to do it anyway because in all fairness you can’t stop me. It’s my life, and I’ll do what I want. (Raise your hand if you just thought of South Park.)
And of course, that’s what I did. I went out and I smoked the cigarettes. I drank the booze. (Still do, don’t care, it’s delicious.) I slept around. I did the drugs. None of this stuff can hurt me. I’m Matt. I’m invincible. Dad, I will win in this, as you say, “game of life”. You’re so corny. God, you embarrass me. You’re old and decrepit. Pack it in already. How did you even make it this far in life?
And with every completely unveiled insult and every comment made in absolute disdain for everything he stood for, I could see in his eyes the fear. This wasn’t fear that he was going to lose in a fight or that I was right in my prognosis of his character or anything like that. This fear was different. This fear I now recognize. Because on occasion, on those nights when I attempt to be responsible and not hang out with friends, or Romans, or countrymen, I see the same look in my own eyes. The look that says I’m afraid I fucked this life up.
With every verbal blow I sent my dad was another moment in which he was afraid he had done something wrong in raising me. In all fairness, every time I said something to hurt him, to take him down a peg, to make him feel the way he had made me feel, I was actually angry with him for doing what any reasonably responsible parent should have been doing.
Yeah, he was a terrible guy. He didn’t want me to go out and do drugs or become dependent on any substance (except oxygen, of course). He wanted me to respect women. (Just tonight I saved a girl from a drunk asshole at a bar because he seemed a little date rapey. She thanked me and called me a gentleman.) He wanted me to believe in myself and to become a self-sustaining adult. Yeah, that man was a real prick all right.
Dad is a caring guy. He is a man who wants absolutely nothing more than the absolute best for his family, and their families after them. (Meaning my niece and nephew. I don’t have kids.) Yeah, he can be a bit much. He’s opinionated and very adamant about the Beatles being the best band of all time. (It’s true, I know.) If you disagree with him politically, he probably calls you a “stupid liberal”. If you are in his car, don’t even think about touching the radio unless the Steve Miller Band comes on. Then you can basically turn on anything else in the world. He’s hard-headed and set in his ways, and I know he will never read this story, mainly because he doesn’t know any of the following words:
Dad is a wonderful person who has always wanted the best for me, but he also knew he had to let me go and allow me to find that path myself. He knew I would always come back when I was ready, like the prodigal son I am. He was right, I did come back. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to raise me. He showed me how important it is to be your son’s best friend, as well as his worst enemy. He taught me what it was to care for your family. Even though I didn’t realize it when I was younger, almost everything he did was out of love for the family and his desire to keep us close.
I am proud that my father is my best friend. The favors he has done for me, and the respect he has taught me toward other people, have helped turn me into the person I am. I may not be perfect, but the only reason I this damn close to perfect is because of the life lessons that my dad taught me. If I grow up one day (probably not going to happen) and have a wife and children of my own, I hope I can be anywhere in the same vicinity as my dad is in the parenting department. I have often said the reason I never settled down and started a family is because my parents set the bar so high I never thought I could ever clear it. I’m good at everything I do, and my only fears are rational ones that come from years of training. Not that I consider it a phobia, but I am afraid I could never be the father he was, and no child, especially mine, deserves a father less than my dad was to me.