I was never much good at the “sports.” When your sister can beat you up and your older brothers grew like bean-stocks (while your growth spurt took an extra five years,) competing athletically can seem out of the picture. I was the kid in right field picking flowers as the pop-fly ball bounced on the ground next to me and people screamed and waved. I would wave back but that just made them yell louder. No, I was Reg’s youngest son who played with dolls until he was fifteen when all the other boys were out catching touch downs and passing scrimmage lines.
Imagination always meant a lot to me. I have my oldest brother Sean to thank for that. He would write songs and create stories for our stuffed animals. He would draw comic books for me with amazing story lines and funny characters. I’ll never forget the days we spent playing with Monkey-Monk and Spunky the Dog as they traveled the sewer system in search of a better life. Creativity was never lacking in our house.
As I got older it was no longer socially acceptable to play with toys, or so they keep telling me. The only problem was that’s how I expressed my creativity. My GI Joes were the actors in the films I made up in my head. So fifteen year old me was at a loss and didn’t have a method in which to express myself. I found myself playing video games for the story but it wasn’t the same creative involvement.
Enter my second brother, Brett. One summer we began writing and illustrating comics for each other (since no one else would read them.) I would spend hours drawing and thinking of different ways to make fun of him in comic form. I look back on my stories now and I laugh at how childish they were but it was one of the best summers in my life and made me dream of a career where I could draw all day long.
I’ll be a father in eleven weeks and while that scares the hell out of me I also cannot wait to start telling her stories! The characters from the books I am writing for her are all based on stuffed animals in her room so that I can recreate the childhood my brothers Sean and Brett gave me. These two men were dads before they had children and that is because they were children their entire lives. It was how they viewed the world as a never ending story that inspires me to take a second look and find something magical in the ordinary world.
Now you may be wondering where my dad comes into all of this. I always liked my dad. I was scared of him, sure, but who wasn’t. He was like a 6’2″ Norwegian monster! I was his youngest, most unlike his normal boys. He loved sports and played with my three older brothers all of the time. But my entire life he never said he was disappointed in the way I turned out. He wasn’t mad that I didn’t play sports. It didn’t bother him that I wanted to play with toys instead of play catch. He did get mad when I asked if I could paint my nails but I’m sure that was pretty shocking. If he was disappointed in me, he never told me or showed any signs.
For most children, their favorite memory of their father will be something that happened when they were small, before they could really understand what it means to be disappointed with your father, and they look up to their dad teaching them to play catch or how to ride a bike. Those weren’t my favorite memories. No, mine were when I was sixteen. He had just lost his job at the skating rink and had to move the family from Mississippi to Minnesota. We were broke and cold. My three older brothers had all moved out of the house and my mom was in Mississippi, trying to sell the house. My dad went back to his baking job at the college and we were living in a small house, less than half the size of our last one. My dad, sister, and I would go to Walmart and buy frozen pizzas with only the change in the car’s cup holders.
This was probably a hard time for my dad, but I loved it. We may not have had a lot in common but he found something we did share; our sense of humor. We would sit in Perkin’s, eating heath bar crunch pie and quoting Seinfeld back and forth. I was no longer just the youngest son, I was the boy who made friends with the Norwegian monster. I saw a side of my dad that I had never seen before. He was silly instead of scary. He was my friend and father.
These three men have formed me into the man I am today and the father I want to become. I want my daughter to have everything I had, the love, creativity, and adventures. I had a great childhood and I don’t ever want it to end! This doesn’t mean shirking responsibility but maintaining the magic, always remembering to laugh, and seeing the world through the eyes of a child. The child inside of me.
And if my daughter loves the “sports”, I won’t be disappointed in her. Instead, I will be her biggest cheerleader and pray she has her mother’s athletic ability.