Sunday, June 17, 2012

The first non-Robert

I'm the first non-Robert on the Oxford side of my family in three generations. My father and his father are both Roberts (incidentally, so was my Baltimore grandfather). With that kind of multi-generational gravity going, most of the older folks in Oxford still called me "Bobby," when I was little.

My father, no doubt, looked to avoid the confusion of another Robert. Or maybe it was to break the identity shackles Robert carried with it. It did make it as my middle name.

Besides the reigning first name, the other notable thing that didn't get passed directly to me is my father's love and aptitude for numbers. He's an accountant and has been treasurer of every organization he has belonged to. Words are my currency; we'll hope the math gene is just dormant and has been passed on to our girls.

In the interest of full disclosure, my dad also didn't pass along his hairline (or lack thereof), yet, which is something I'm okay with. But I'm not really thinking of the things not passed on this Father's Day morning.

Anna, our 10-year-old, and I have taken to playing catch, lacrosse style, in our front yard. She picked it up more quickly than I did. I had my dad come out front a few weeks ago to watch Anna play. It took me back to our back yard when I was nine or ten, two gold-shafted Warhawk lacrosse sticks, one with a red head, one with a yellow, trying to get the magic in that stick to work. It was only a couple years earlier we had been after the same goal with baseball mitts and ball.

Learning to play catch, ride a bike, how to fish. Becoming a swept-up baseball, football and Baltimore fan (the last of which has waned a bit in the baseball world, having worked next door to Nationals Stadium for the past three baseball seasons). Immersing myself in sports statistics and history because my dad seem to have it all memorized.

There are things, like those above, that a father can teach his children. There are other things, like the shape of my face, my eyes, the gait of my walk--for years when the two of us walk next to each other, our walks are almost indistinguishable--the sound of my laugh/voice, which were not taught, but undeniably paternal in my case.

Somewhere intertwined and above all this is something I hope I can pass on to our girls as well as my father passed on to me and my sister: how to live life. Those things like going after dreams, not being afraid to try things, not being afraid to fall, but when you do, being able to get up, dust yourself off, and get back at it; looking out for your family; appreciating your shared history/having a sense for your roots. I think these things are taught by example. These things emerge, are imparted by observation, discussion and the shape of a life lived as the backdrop.

The thing I learned most quickly as a father/parent, is that parents don't know shit. At least, that's how I felt, still sometimes feel. There were no handbooks, no answer sheets. I'm mentally scratching my head to answer some of the questions the girls throw at me. But as a child, and through growing up, I have always felt (and still frequently do), that my father (and mother) knew/knows things I didn't/don't. There was a certainty, an authority in his answers that seemed beyond question. Gravitas. I have always wondered where the hell that dad gravitas comes from.

On this Father's Day, looking back at myself at Anna and Ava's ages and the things my dad was able to give, impart, be for us, I try to live up to his example, try to be that kind of father for our girls. Though they won't be fathers, maybe it will help them come up with their own ideas of what one is/does. Dad has been that for me.

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