This is a thank you, an apology, and an epiphany. For years, I've jokingly claimed that when I was twelve, your IQ began dropping to somewhere around the level at which you were able to keep breathing, but that was about it; however, around twenty, it miraculously began recovering with each passing day. I never understood. I never understood how it had to hurt you to watch me make my own mistakes; I never understood why you were always there to help me pick up the pieces of those mistakes, especially considering the attitude I struck when I flew headlong from one screwup to the next. I never understood that what you taught me, by keeping me from true harm by letting me take my bruises, was how to become myself.
My life, it seems, bears a number of striking parallels to your own. You and I share the same mental blessing and curse: we're both too damn smart. Not many people view it as both curse and blessing, but I'm positive you understand my perspective. For my entire life, outside of my own home, I never had to put in the work to understand, to know, to grasp the material: even that with which others struggled I always seemed to "get" with little effort. I could hear/read/see it once, and both recall and interpret almost instantly. Because I was always "right" when it came to abstract and concrete knowledge, I assumed I was right when it came to things with no manual. I'm sure you know what I mean. We fouled up at the same time. Although you straightened your life out by going to war far away, and I battled only myself, my own conflicting demons, we both came out stronger in the end.
When I came out on the other side, I knew what I wanted, and gained another of your blessed curses: your drive. Since I've known you, you have always been driven to be the best at what you choose to do: teach, learn, play, run, walk, think, cook . . . You realized, as I have since, that your gift of understanding could take you as far as you needed. I've chosen my path - one similar to yours - to use my mind and share my understanding with others. The mental capacity needed to get there has been present throughout my life; the drive, however, has only recently been awakened.
I never understood. When I was younger, I resented the hell out of you. It seemed like you were never around until Katie was born. I held that grudge for a long time... I never wanted to be like you, which included being smart. I was determined to NOT go to any sort of graduate school - at one point I was determined to never graduate college, to instead move far away and work at a construction job, thereby embarassing my oh-so-smart family. I then determined (around age 21-22) that it was stupid of me to hurt myself to hurt you, even though I nourished that dwindling ember of anger for quite a while.
Now, I understand. I don't mean simply the understanding that comes with binding your life to another through marriage, and through that, the understanding that arrives with the birth of the other most important person in my life. I understand that you weren't home for the simple reason that you had to be elsewhere. You and I both chose fields in which the only way to adequately provide for those most important to you - the only way to be a man by the standards of those men who most influenced our own lives (for the record, in my life, that man is you) - is to push through to the end. To not finish what we had started was to teach, by example, that giving up is acceptable. To not finish was to show that you didn't care enough to make the sacrifices needed to provide for a family.
I understand, I think, in a way that not many men - even fathers - can understand. I understand that your heart must have ripped in two when you left to do what was needed: to do the research, to write the dissertation, the articles, the chapters, to kowtow to others in order to, someday if not immediately, do what was right for your family. I understand why you could not be there every minute of every day. More importantly, I apologize. By your absence, you were there for me, for mom, in a way that was even more important than had you been home: you were making sure that we would, someday, lead a decent and happy life. You were ensuring our future by sacrificing the present, and I never understood it fully until now. I cannot apologize to you enough. I cannot express the respect, the honor that I hold for you in my heart, with words - something quite difficult for me to admit. If you were here, I would probably squeeze you tightly enough to crack a few ribs, while begging all the while for your forgiveness.
I feel as though I sacrificed a chance to get to really know you by harboring resentment for an imagined slight. I feel as though I've wronged you more greatly than I can ever redress. I can't imagine that I'll ever forgive myself; I'm even unsure that I should write this, knowing how much it must hurt you to read it. I'm writing it to tell you that I'm sorry, and I hope you take it in the way that I intend. Once more, though, I have to repeat my refrain: I understand. I understand, now, that you'll probably forgive me, and this I understand because I finally understand you - as much as any man can understand another - I understand the love you have for me, and I understand why you picked me back up after all of my falls. I understand because the absolute and unconditional love that I felt after ten minutes would permit me to forgive just about anything; and I also understand that if that love grew infinitely greater throughout a single day, the love you bear me after almost twenty-eight years must be greater than I yet know. I ask your forgiveness, knowing that it must hurt, but I also ask your understanding, knowing that you will grant it, because you and I are probably closer to understanding one another than any two people could ever be. You are my father. I can only hope that I will be as good a father as you were, no matter how hard it may be.
I love you. Thank you for being the man that you are.