Today was strange for me.

I think one of the bells of adulthood began ringing in my head today. I was taken back to a time and a place I haven't visited in a long, long time. It's a time and place in my mind - a time when I was younger and still living at home, working with my father on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

There was a time in my life when I resented Saturdays. I couldn't stand them, to be honest. For most kids, Saturday meant freedom. They were one of two days not spent in the halls of their crummy school going through the motions of being "educated" by what passes for a school system in their local municipality. They could sleep in, eat sugary cereals while watching goofy cartoons, and otherwise just goof around.

Not me.

When I was 10, my mother married the man I call my Dad. This man was an old seafaring man. An early riser. A martial of other people's time. To him, Saturdays were days where all of the work he didn't have time to do during the work would be finished, come hell or high water. He rousted me out of bed at 6:00 AM and within 20 minutes, we were either working on some project around our house or on our way to work on some project at someone else's house. Hauling boxes around, cutting and loading firewood, digging wells, mending fences, collecting fallen branches and chipping them, hauling the chips around to be delivered to the homes of old ladies in the church who had a garden or some shrubbery that my dad volunteered our mulch for, mowing lawns, installing or removing just about every single appliance or fixture one has ever seen in a house - Saturdays were work days. They were hard work days. They were littered with Bell jars full of sweet tea, barbecue sandwiches for lunch, corn and mashed potatoes with some hunk of something that used to be alive for dinner, and an aching back and sore feet at bedtime.


I resented every moment spent working with my father. I was a KID, for fuckssake! I was supposed to be lollygagging and goofing around! That's what kids did on Saturday, you know? Calling girls and pretending I knew how to talk to them, playing yard ball or video games, getting into trouble... These were the toils fit for Saturday. Not hauling freakin' cinderblocks around some old man's yard in order to build a faux retaining wall along a drainage ditch. And the commands... Christ. It was like I could do NOTHING right. "You're not hitting that nail straight-on," he'd bark. "You're working left-handed - don't work against yourself!" He'd yell when he saw me reaching over my own shoulder to screw something in. "Don't just slap the bricks together - lay them on gently and slide them into place!" He'd command. No matter what it was we were doing, he had the perfect way of doing it and made sure I followed his method of doing things to the letter. He just wanted to control me, that's all.

As I got older, my Saturdays began filling up with things that pulled me away from working with my dad in the yard or in the shed. I had football games or wrestling meets, every single one of which my father attended. I had some dates with girls whom I picked up with my father's car. I had some art shows, I had some time with friends... I got "busy." He'd ask for my help, I'd ask for the car. He'd tell me about a widow in the church who needed a dresser moved upstairs, I'd tell him about girl du jour who actually winked at me. With every request, I'd find something better to do and ask him for permisison to do it. He'd make these deals with me - "Help me this afternoon and you can borrow the car this evening." God, what a jerk! Why's he always controlling me???

Then, around age 18, I moved out. I broke away, I sought my own road... However you want to describe it. I spent some time away from home, travelling on consulting jobs for the booming IT industry. I'd keep in touch with my parents, but rarely visited or stopped by. I was an ADULT. I had ADULT things to do. I never even gave a thought to anything going on in my parents' lives. My dad, the master and commander, surely had everything under control. He's strong, he's fit, he's smart and he's in control. It wasn't even a question in my brain. Things were fine. I have stuff to do. You can't control me anymore.

But then I'd hear these reports back from my mom. "Dad cut himself on the lawn mower this weekend, trying to fix it..." How the hell does one cut themselves on the lawn mower? "Well, he didn't have anyone to hold it up, so he was trying to tighten something or other with his right hand while he held the mower with his left and it fell..."

Or how about the time he nearly chopped his leg off with the chainsaw while he was trying to cut a limb out of a tree? The ladder, unsturdy because there was no one to hold it, fell from under him and the chainsaw landed on his leg.

And all the while, he never even asked for my help.

And thank God, you know? Because all he wanted to do anyway was control me. Wasn't it?

A few years ago, My dad had his first knee replacement. At that time, he was laid up for months, recovering and going through rehab. Every time I'd visit the house, I'd notice a new job that needed doing... The yard wasn't getting mowed, the bushes weren't getting trimmed... Boxes were still in the dining room that needed to go into the attic... Someone needed to get that stuff done.

And that's when it hit me. For years, my dad was that someone for a whole bunch of people who had no one else to do those things for them.

And that's what I mulled over today, at age 28, in the rain-soaked backyard of my father's house. I was unloading things from the truck that needed to be moved, helping this man with two fake knees but a will stronger than oak. And all the while, he was issuing "commands"... "Lift with your legs, son. Save your back." And it struck me - it didn't really sound like a command... It sounded more like advice. And I thought back over nearly 20 years of working with this man, the absolute image of strength, intelligence and confidence in my life.

It wasn't about control. It was about being a DAD.

It was about taking a 10 year old kid who had a previous example of what a "father" was, and it wasn't very good -- In fact, it was abhorrent -- and teaching him what a father is supposed to be. It was about teaching responsibility, both to myself and to those whom I know who need my help. It was building skills and learning lessons that might serve me in the future. Here I was, soaked with rain and covered in mud and grass clippings, and I realized that there's hardly any other place in the world I'd rather be than with him, doing what needs to be done.