That’s what he calls me when he says hello on the phone, or when he hugs me goodbye, “Pops.” Somehow it doesn’t really make me feel old, though he is in the middle of his college career now, making the grades and as always, making me proud.
I was never good at sports myself, though I tried track for a while, and I loved volley ball. I even did a little bit of intramural basketball. Maybe it was because being the youngest of six kids, my father didn’t really ever seem to have the time and energy to pass a ball with me when I was a kid. But then he grew up on a farm with eleven brothers and sisters. There was surely lots of work to do, and probably no football. Then there were my brothers who were much older and busy getting into trouble and hitting on girls to play with the youngest. But don’t pity me; I think it’s just as likely that I just really didn’t care for sports much. Dodge ball was fun but probably for all the wrong reasons.
In any case, I wanted to give my boys as many opportunities as we could afford to discover and do what they decided they wanted to do. Jo, our oldest took to sports in a way that coaches loved. I recall a basketball coach saying, “whatever I ask him to do, he does.” I remember that he was the one they always sent in when it was time for a free throw. Nothing but net, over and over. He tried his hand, and foot at soccer, football, basketball, and enjoyed them all. Unfortunately a knee injury and surgery finally brought an end to competitive sports for him in high school.
But he didn’t, and doesn’t grumble much about it. He picks up and does the next thing. He has been active in drama groups, local theater and even puppetry. What he seems to enjoy more than anything is helping people, and that includes tutoring and teaching. That’s his program right now in school, despite the fact that our governor in Pennsylvania has cut funds for education. He works part time as a tutor for younger kids, and for free for his mom and brothers. And where he got his brilliance in math is beyond his mother and I. We just scratch our heads in wonderment.
We read to all of the boys from the time they were very little. And it was apparent to us early on that this guy would likely devour every book in the house. I remember reading ahead of him when the Harry Potter series came out, but falling behind him during the Lord of the Rings books. He was 13 when we watched the “Two Towers” on video. I was too stunned to speak when he started expounding on all of the differences between the book and the movie, and why they had to be different!
I remember one summer when he worked locally with the Missoula Children’s theater, one of the fathers of the group said, “Oh, you are Jo’s dad? Wow, he’s quite a kid. The younger ones seem to always be following him around, and when my boys are home they can’t stop talking about him!” Maybe it’s the family sense of humor, or his playfulness. More likely it’s the fact that he makes people around him feel like he really is interested in them, like they are important, like he really cares. And that’s no act. He really does have that kind of heart.
I cannot help but be proud when I think what a great teacher he is going to be, and already is. But mostly I am proud that he has grown up to be a good, good person, a caring young man who has a passion for many things, and a desire to be a helper. All the while he keeps his wits about him, and is discerning enough to not waste too much time and energy with the lies and deceit (read “bullshit”) that seems to constantly be thrown in the face of all of us in this life.
I’m not sure if he realizes what a stabilizing influence he is on the rest of the family. Hell, the group of us have our conflicts and battles, like any family. Don’t misunderstand and think we are somehow immune to the ups and downs, but we are a solid group, and he’s a big part of that. Oh, he can get angry, just like his father. He gets his temper honestly. But he also has a gift of being able to glue people together, and be show-stoppingly supportive.
I’ll never forget our first discussion about my being gay. He was nine years old. I was concerned about how it would affect him when he would hear, as he surely would in small town Penn’s Woods, derogatory remarks and opinions about the whole subject. I told him that homosexuality upset some people, not only because of the religious teachings they were raised with, but because it was different, and though normal for me, it didn’t seem normal to them. His response was that of a boy who didn’t see why people should make such a fuss. “But dad,” he said, “Everybody’s different.” I could have cried. I probably did later.
I’m proud of all my three of my boys, for many reasons, but as I said about Jo, it’s mostly because they are good, caring young men. I just wanted to spend a little time telling you about Jo today. He’s in the middle of those arduous years of study before launching into the next phase of his life. And I just cannot say enough how incredibly happy I am to be his dad.
- What makes your father proud? Here’s what we think can – (peergrad.wordpress.com)