Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Birthday for the Big Guy

The ladies get a lot of love in this corner of the Internet. 

I'm frequently pointing out how Mrs. Blackwell got something right that I got wrong. Or how, in general, I'm a stooge-like foil to her consistently sound performance in the great game of life. My mom and my mother in law do pretty well here too.

And they all should, they're great ladies, every last one of them. 

But what about guys? No one is going to feel bad for men; I get it. But, it's no stretch to acknowledge the very real fact that guys  — and dads in particular — tend to get short shrift. 

Whether it's in advertisements, movies or any other pop culture venue you identify, dads are most often portrayed as bumbling, thoughtless idiots. Why, if these poor guys didn't have wives, they'd shrivel up and die, and somehow someway, they'd do so with the toilet seat up and a football game on the television.

I can't speak for all dads, only the one I saw growing up. And, on the occasion of his birthday, I'd like to submit him as proof positive that not all dads are worthy of the above characterizations.

First, my dad is no bumbling goof. No sir. My father is a three time MVP for his college soccer team. 

Say that to my dad and he'll immediately downplay the accomplishment and tell you that his was a small school and that the one time they played a big school, they gave up 13 goals. 

That may be true but, it doesn't change the central fact that my dad won three MVP awards for his college team. My father, as the kids say these days, "could ball."

Athletic glory is great, but it's fleeting and by the time the vast majority of us are 30, those days are well behind us and we're left with the attributes that will define who we are for the rest of our lives. 

This inescapable reality means it's a great thing that my father also happens to be the smartest man I know. 

I say this with all sincerity and after having met some singularly intelligent people. My dad remains the smartest. He's also extremely comfortable with his brains and doesn't feel the need to dominate conversation, to be snide, impatient, arrogant or dismissive. 

Nope, my father is the quiet type. He'll wait until his interest has been piqued just enough to join a conversation at which point he'll drop some bomb that no one saw coming and leaves everyone wondering, "What the hell did that guy just say?"

That's dad's M.O. While the rest of his loud, loquacious family is chattering away, he observes, before occasionally rendering a thought or fact that all of us have been ignoring or just flat out, didn't know. 

Then there are the other times where dad drops a quick four or five-word one liner that stops all the talking and just leads to laughter.

One of the great joys of my life has been watching friends and new acquaintances see this dynamic at work. 

My nattering, babbling family and my stoic father plunked right down in the middle of it — a fish out of water, squared. 

People just meeting my family often remark how loud we all are — except my dad. It's not that he's not part of the proceedings, he just doesn't feel perpetually inclined to helm them like the rest of us. 

This part of dad's personality is emblematic of perhaps his greatest trait — infinite humility. It's awe-inspiring, ceaseless and effortless. I'm convinced it's in his DNA and, while I don't have this trait, he's given me an ideal to shoot for. 
Mom, Dad and Mrs. Blackwell 

I won't go too far off the rails here and suggest anything more than what this is but, I will say that it speaks volumes about someone who, when he speaks, rarely, rarely speaks of himself. 

I don't know exactly what it says but, to me, it's impressive to a degree I can't describe. 

My dad doesn't get angry often. He rarely raises his voice (unless the Tar Heels are losing or, not winning by enough). He loves dogs. He gives to charities. He rejects the material and status symbols of nearly every stripe. 

Of course, dad is human so he's not perfect. 

His hearing isn't the greatest and he refuses to get it checked, which means we all repeat ourselves in his presence —  frequently. 

As alluded to earlier, my father is the most fickle "fan" I've ever seen. His father was a ballplayer at North Carolina. My dad went to graduate school there. Both his brothers went to school there and my dad's sons all went to school there. So, it's in our blood. One would think loyalty would be too. One would be wrong.

The moment Carolina gets down by a few points it's nothing for dad to voice his revulsion and change the channel. 

One of the first memories I have of sports is my father raising his voice in disgust at the coaching decisions of Dean Smith, arguably the greatest coach in the history of basketball. 

Sure, you've won two national championships in the last
nine years. But, what have you done for me lately?
Further, in his rejection or more accurately, obliviousness to the material world, my father has often delved into what one might call the "dad wardrobe." 

The dad wardrobe takes on many forms but the common thread between all of them is that at least one element of an outfit is unspeakably worn out. It's not cool. It's not "retro" or "hipster." It's terrible and, no matter how many times you tell dad that those shoes have "got to go," he does not care.

About 20 years ago we resorted to throwing out these clothes and replacing them on our own. It didn't matter and the dad wardrobe rears itself to this day. 

Finally, in what might be viewed as a contradiction with the above-mentioned humility, my father is weird about his age. He doesn't talk about it much and he'd most definitely prefer that the public at large not know it. 

In the grand scheme of things, I suppose he's entitled to these shortcomings. No one is perfect and my dad would be the first to tell you he isn't. 

With that in mind let me be the first to tell you that, perfect or not, he's the best. 

Happy birthday Dad. 45 years old never looked so good!


Unknown said...

Ralph was one of the first guys I met when I enrolled at Weslyan. He was also the first "foreigner" I ever met. We had a lot of fun that first year and absolutely, he was the best soccer player I ever met. I'll leave it to Ralph to share with you our midnight call to the Baltimore Colts. I still think it was a great idea. I'm so sorry we live so far apart. One minute with Ralph will take away the doldrums and leave you laughing. Happy 45ish Ralph!

Blackwell said...

Awesome! So, it turns out, I wasn't writing fiction.