83: My Dad Is as Nice as a Fish

83: My Dad Is as Nice as a Fish

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

My Dad Is as Nice as a Fish

One night a father overheard his son pray:
Dear God, Make me the kind of man my Daddy is.
Later that night, the Father prayed,
Dear God, Make me the kind of man my son wants me to be.

~Anonymous

I still remember the sounds of my dad beginning his day: the ringing of his alarm clock, the running water as he shaved, the coffee maker, and the rattling of cupboards and dishes in the kitchen. The sounds of leather straps against cowhide told me he was lacing up his work boots while his coffee was cooling. His quick breakfast was followed by the thud of the kitchen door closing, his old pickup coming to life, and the crunch of gravel under tires as his truck left our driveway.

Only then would I tiptoe downstairs, grab his still-warm mug, fill it with milk and add a couple spoonfuls of sugar — just like him. While my pretend coffee was pretend cooling, I would lace up my pretend work boots — Keds high-top sneakers. After consuming the horrible milk and sugar concoction with coffee grinds floating on top, I’d quietly sneak outside and climb on my bicycle — now magically transformed into a truck. As gravel crunched beneath my two wheels, I’d ride off to the pretend house I was building. In the make-believe world of my four-year-old existence, I wanted to be like him. After all, he was more than just my dad; he was my hero.

I suspect the vast majority of young children view their fathers, as I did, in awe — a real life super hero able to do anything. During my early years there was nobody bigger, stronger or more important than Dad. At the end of his workday, when he’d come home, he’d pick me up, rub his day-old whiskers against my giggling face and then launch me into the air above his head. The thrill of momentary flight coupled with the knowledge that his strong arms and calloused hands would always catch me and keep me safe remained a metaphor for all he would become to me.

As I grew older, his hero status began to diminish as my world expanded. I started seeing him as a man with foibles like the rest of us mere mortals. I also began seeing less of him as my life took me in different directions. But on occasion, our paths did cross as he coached my baseball team or volunteered with my Scout troop. Sometimes we’d even see each other across the kitchen table during dinner. I was entering my teenage years and, at the time, I was certain it was my dad who was changing. And losing his ground as my hero.

By the time I reached my twenties, his status had been fully restored. It remained a comfort and blessing to know that no matter where my life took me, his strong arms and callused hands would always be there to catch me and keep me safe should I fall. By the time I married, his hero status was cemented, but he’d become more than just my dad and my hero — he’d become my friend and would remain so for the rest of his life.

When my own son, Michael, was seven, he completed a classroom handout for Father’s Day. His fill-in-the-blank answers to the incomplete questions afforded me a peek into the state of our father/son relationship. To the question, “My dad is special because,” he wrote, “he cares for me and listens to me.” I was moved. “I like to make him smile by,” “doing my best at school.” I was pleased. He noted that I looked at the things he did and that I taught him how to catch a baseball, but one answer puzzled me as much then as it does today. To the question, “My dad is as nice as. . .” he wrote, “a fish.”

I was confused. I asked him what that meant and he just smiled — and gave me a hug. He never did explain his answer, but his hug required no explanation.

A few years later he had to compose a short piece about someone who was his hero. Many of his classmates picked sports figures, celebrities, and cartoon characters to write about. Michael picked me. And so it goes — like father, like son. I’ll forever remain thankful for having been a fortunate recipient of my dad’s love and friendship, and I can only hope that as Michael’s teenage years are winding down, he will still feel the same about me. If he does, I’ll promise to do my best to live up to that honor. And to remain as nice as a fish, whatever that means.

~Stephen Rusiniak

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