In the summer of 2002, I left my home country and moved to Japan to teach English with the JET Programme. I knew about 10 words in Japanese, didn’t know my supervisor or co-workers, had never seen my apartment and didn’t know anyone. It was a daunting adventure, but it was just that…and adventure. One of the many I have taken in my life and I will forever be greatful for that awesome year for many reasons, but mostly because of the family that I created while there. Like most families there are peaks and valleys, lulls in communication, farting (oh the farting), and a wee bit of dysfunction, but these are people I would go to the mat for. They made that year unforgettable. Because karaoke is king in Japan, I have many memories associated with music. One of the songs that will forever remind me of that year is To Sir With Love.
As much as I am indebted to my “Japanese” family for being in that place with me in that time, I am also indebted to my parents for that time. The beginning was hard, as beginnings often are. Every day after work, I would ride my bike to the pay phone at the end of my block and call collect from Isesaki, Japan to Rochester NY. My parents would each pick up a line and we would talk until I was ready to venture out for the evening. The calls got shorter and less frequent, but every Sunday, we would check in and catch up. They taught me I could go out and conquer the world, but I always had a home to go back to.
I come back, again and again as an adult, to how lucky I am to have had the parents I have. They taught me to be brave and smart and thoughtful. My mother was a kind, smart, funny, beautiful soul and a dear friend that I miss. My dad? Well…. fathers and daughters, right? My father has taught me a mixture of practical and emotional lessons. He taught me that sometimes you want quality and sometimes you want quantity. He taught me to change a tire. He taught me that sometimes the feelings of those you love take precedent over your own. He taught me to stay sober and go to class. He also taught me to cherish and value the relationships in your life.
If you know my dad, you know he is a hybrid guy. He is an emotional man and then a stoic one. He is a smart guy and just as quickly…a little bumbling. He loves with his whole heart and gives hugs just as big. His words, when he chooses them carefully, can, and have, meant the world to me. They can also cut to the quick. I am lucky for all of it.
With Father’s Day coming, I recently got to work on his present. Every year, for the past 5 or so, I have given him a Top 10 list of why he’s a great dad. Top 10 reasons he’s a great dad; Top 10 things I learned from him I want to pass to my kids; Top 10 things I never thanked him for, but should have. In writing these lists, I have come to reflect on lessons from the past and hopes for the future. My dad will be the first to admit that mistakes are a part of life…but for the most part, he and my mom did one hell of a job. I hope, years from now, my kids feel as connected to me and have as much love for me as I do for my parents.
So, how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume? It isn’t easy but I’ll try. Here’s to you, Daddy.