The Original Penguin

He was always a quiet man when I was growing up. He was always there, but he was always quiet. At times it felt like he was on the perimeter of my life, watching from the shadows not fully capable or wanting to get involved. But like many things I thought when I was younger, this turned out to be wrong. 

I was too quick to form conclusions, too quick to see things through my introverted and often times, obscured eyes. I inherited my mom’s emotional side, and although it has helped me in life at times, it has also been a burden as well. It’s fine to cry at the very moment Old Yeller ceases to be, another one entirely when Kate Winslet dies in Finding Neverland. When you’re young you want to believe that your dad is Superman, is Everyman, and Everyman had no flaws. Kids are supposed to have flaws, your dad isn’t. At times I found it difficult to believe that he loved me such was his silence. Of course I know I’m not alone in thinking this. Most teenagers struggle with this issue. 

While both my mom and dad worked, dad was the sole provider of that precious commodity called “the car”. My mom didn’t drive, so it fell on dad’s shoulders to cart us all around. And he was busy. My older sister was also involved with horses, and every weekend he would drive her out to the ranch so she could ride. My little sister played sports, did dance, and other things and dad would be responsible for getting her to and from each event. As for me, I was probably the biggest burden on him. I played soccer in the summer, three nights a week, and during the long winter months I would play hockey and indoor soccer, six times a week, and often at ludicrous times. Yet he never complained. Well, not out loud. He was a quiet man. 

I first noticed his demeanour, his apparent lack of emotion at hockey. While all the other parents would cram themselves onto the bleachers hooting and hollering for their teenage sons, dad would stand stoic behind the players’ bench, hardly the best location to view the game, and he wouldn’t leave until the players were in the dressing room. Was he not social or did he just show up because he had to? I never said I was the brightest kid growing up. It took me years to realize some potential at all and sometimes I think things could have been different for me and my dad growing up if I had a little more conviction away from a soccer field or hockey rink. 

Dad was also the source of our summer vacations, mostly spent in and out of campgrounds throughout western Canada. Our summers were fantastic – fishing, camping, stopping off at adventure parks, seeing animals of all descriptions. He must have driven around the world 5 times over, not to mention set up all the camping gear, cooked all the meals, took care of his wounded little soldiers, and helped me dig up and re-plant a tree I thought mom would like. All told, these were Herculean feats in my eyes. I have no reason to complain about my life growing up, but at the time, I probably did.  

Like most boys in their mid to late teens, my relationship with “my old man” soured. It’s just what happens I suppose. It was nothing he did, probably my own foolishness for getting kicked out of school twice and generally being a burden on everyone around me. While he never said as such, and never once intimated in any way that this was the case, in my head, a head filled with reasons for the whole world to hate me, he was thinking I was a burden. Mom too; even though I have always been her favourite. 

And then it all changed. I can’t sit and here and say it was because I matured, because months away from 43 I’m still a bratty teenager on some occasions. I do think the distance between us, when I first moved away from home at 18, forced me to see things a little differently. I was coming home for my first weekend and was bringing my friend Glenn with me, the guy I call my best friend these days, and I warned him that “my dad might not say much to us all weekend.”

When we got through the front door my mom greeted us as dad was trying to fix the bathroom sink. He trotted downstairs, gave me a hug, welcomed Glenn, and then asked us if we wanted to go for a pint. Mom gave the three of us shit the next morning. 

We went from strength to strength after that. Years ago he told me something that I had always wondered about when it was happening. I had a terrible stutter growing up, and on the occasions it was really bad and I was struggling to string a sentence together, everyone would jump in and finish it for me. Everyone but him. At the time I thought it was because he didn’t really know me, couldn’t possibly know what I was saying. When we were talking over a pint while watching hockey he brought it up, saying it used to annoy him when people finished my sentences for me. He felt they were belittling me, treating me different. He didn’t want to finish what I had to say. He thought if I wanted to say it, I would, in my own voice, when I was ready. That struck me then and it still does. That statement sums up our whole relationship. 

I wasn’t ready for the relationship I have now with my father. I didn’t understand the world enough, myself enough, or him enough. I couldn’t finish what I was thinking for myself and he wasn’t about to let me off the hook, to belittle me. Deep down he knew I’d find it within myself to make something of myself. I just needed to do it for myself, to fully open my own eyes and mind before I could actually communicate with him. He wasn’t being silent; he was just waiting for me to say what I needed to say.  

For the greater part of two decades my dad has been one of my best friends. I know where I get my sense of humour from, my creative streak, my passion for athletics and music, and that tiny bit of devilish charm that sometimes causes more harm than good. As a teenager, I thought I was adopted. As a teenager I couldn’t see what he was teaching me. I couldn’t see how I could actually call my dad a good dad. Don’t worry dad, I didn’t think mom was a good mom either. Just being a teenager really. 

I mistook his quietness for indifference or a lack of caring. Through retrospection, because even when blinded by our own short-sightedness, in my case the naivety of youth, our vision becomes crystal clear. My lack of understanding says more about who I wasn’t than who he was. The fact I realize it now, have done for years, and can gladly admit to the world I was wrong, shows me just how wrong I was in the first place. His quietness wasn’t indifference or a lack of caring at all. His quietness was just who he was, is, and will continue to be. It is his character, his strength, and above all, his defining quality. And I was wrong to ever think different. 


6 thoughts on “The Original Penguin

  1. I love this! My dad is also quiet and I’m finally starting to accept that about him while also recognizing that it means I have to put in extra effort to ask about stories from his past, etc. to try to get to know him better.

    • Just how dads are, I guess. But it looks like it took you a lot quicker to find out just how he works. No one ever said I was a genius (despite what the IQ tests say).

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