Understanding My Dad: A Fatherless Child, Vietnam Veteran

father daughter granddaughter outside
Me, my dad, and Penelope
My dad is often misunderstood. He's a complex man. But also a simple man, which makes him even more complex.

He grew up poor in NYC, the youngest of five siblings. His father died when he was young. He was drafted and fought in Vietnam. He was shot. He almost died from infection. He was almost sent back into the jungle to fight even though he could barely walk.

He overcame so much. And was overcome with so much.

He married my mom when he got home from the war. They had me a year later.


I used to not understand my dad. Sometimes I still don't. We have had a rough relationship, especially in my dating years. He didn't always like my choices. He was protective but in a harsh way. He could seem cold, mean, volatile. He was and is a man who doesn't always know how to express himself.

He isn't the kind of dad you run home to after school to curl up in his arms while he read you a book.

He is the kind of dad who would almost set the house on fire from cooking hot dogs when he got home from work at 3 a.m.; the kind of dad who would take my sister and I fishing and have a strange woman flirt with him as she ate rose petals; the kind of dad who strangled our neighbor because he claimed he didn't hear the burglars breaking down our door in the dead of night when my mom, my sister, and I were home alone, even though this neighbor would complain to us about having our TV too loud when we watched cartoons after school.

But he was the kind of dad that was mine.

We are all products of our lives. The twists and turns of them. The crashes and burns of them.

We can't choose our family. But we can choose to see the good in them. Without my father, I wouldn't be here. My husband wouldn't know me. My twins wouldn't exist. I wouldn't have a sister or a brother-in-law or two adorable nieces. So if I could choose, I would still choose my dad.

He may not be the lovey-dovey type, but he does share how proud he is of me to his friends. When I meet them, they talk to me like they know me, because they do, but only through him. He brags about my accomplishments, no matter how small, and hearing them tell me about my father's pride is enough for me to know how much he cares. He just doesn't emote like my mother. But everyone is different. And I respect that.

But I didn't always. It took my father almost dying, again, after a motorcycle accident nine years ago for me to realize a lot of things.

I had been fighting with him, well actually we had been giving each other the silent treatment for a month or so after an argument too stupid to even share. I remember being so angry at him. I even said the words: I never want to speak to you again.

I almost didn't.

When visiting him in the hospital all those weeks, I learned a lot.

No one is perfect. Everyone has their own crap they have to deal with -- big stuff, life stuff, things that happen when you are a child stuff -- but grudges and hate and silent treatments are just not worth it.

I thought a lot. About my dad. His life. I understand now. Well, as much as I am able to understand -- why he is the way he is. Just like I hope my children understand and love me for all my quirks and imperfectness.

My dad just wants us, my sister and I, to have a good life. To have a life better than his. To be happy. And even though he sometimes made me miserable, I know it was out of love. His love. The way he knows how to love. And I love him for it. I love him just the way he is, because he is.

grandfather with baby
My dad with my son, Hunter
I recently gave my dad one of the most amazing gifts -- twin grandchildren.

But it was because of the gifts my dad gave me that I have them. I made good choices because of what he taught me. My mother, too, of course, but this is a Father's Day ode.

I think my dad is different with my kids than he was with me when I was a baby. He's softer. Maybe I wore him out. Maybe it's just because he's older. Even more wise than any book could ever make you. He is the kind of grandpa my kids will run to and sit on his lap while he reads them a book.

He is already talking about what motorized cars he is going to buy Hunter and Penelope (they are 6 months old). And I bet he can't wait until they are old enough to ride with him on a real motorcycle. Yes, dad is back on the bike and running in benefit rallies for veterans of all wars.

I, however, can wait for that day. Motorcycles and my kids ... shudder. 

But through my dad, I know that it's not always what you talk about that makes you a good parent, it's also in what you don't say.


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