Doing The Stupid

We all do stupid things.

Sure, there are different degrees, but I have yet to meet the human, however wise or intelligent, who has never engaged in The Stupid.

It’s simply part of the humbling, real stuff that makes us the brilliant, flawed, relatable creatures we are.

My father, perhaps my greatest hero, about whom I’ve written many times, the man I’ve grieved since he died in May of ’22… even he had his share of stupid moments.

Why, you may ask, would I risk sullying the image of a much-beloved, amazingly generous, kind and generally wonderful person, who clearly had such a positive, lasting impact on me? What would compel me, after all the other stuff I’ve written about him, to surface and reveal the vivid, gory deets of his moments in the throes of The Stupid?

Wouldn’t that be tossing the honored dead under the bus…?

We who wander the world in human skin are complex critters. “I contain multitudes” wasn’t just some cheap throwaway line Walt Whitman came up with on a liquored-up bender.

We’re beings of light and shadow, sweet and salty, detachment and clinginess. Within us we harbor the seeds of lush forests – and the full complement of chainsaws and bulldozers to clearcut and flatten those same woods.

Crazy galaxies of paradoxes, we humans.

And so was my dad.

Mostly level-headed and rarely one to make waves, he had moments in the familial realm I would charitably describe as “unskillful.” Great with tools and woodworking projects, he could be remarkably sloppy when discernment and tact – those all-important implements of interpersonal relationship – were called for.

Two specific instances come to mind.

In the first, I offered to build a set of needed storage shelves in my folks’ basement. No stranger to tools or woodworking myself, I went about the business of crafting a three-tiered, bomb-proof shelving unit.

Upon inspecting my work, Dad informed me that he would have approached the joints in a different way. When I explained the reasons behind my design choices, he looked at me, declared, “You’re lazy,” turned heel, and left me to finish sweeping my piles of sawdust.

It wasn’t a commentary on the quality of my work. Those shelves are likely being enjoyed by whoever owns the place now – and just as likely to serve generations of owners to come.

Knowing my family’s culture and dynamics, it was an unnecessary shot taken from the “my ideas are always best,” need-to-control play book.

It didn’t go down well, but I swallowed my hurt and carried on.

In the second instance, I was dating a strong, brilliant woman, as was always my preference. She was a law student. I was chasing my MFA in visual art. I was serious about where we were heading.

My father had met her once, spent less than 30 minutes in her company, yet still felt compelled to comment, “She’s out of your league, isn’t she?”

It was one of those not-really-a-question kind of questions, a blunt instrument of not-good-enough insult that whacked me as I walked out the door for a date.

It cut deep, and I felt like I was leaving an invisible trail of blood as I climbed into my car…

At the time, my dad was still the man whose thoughts and opinions mattered most to me. It took me a couple more decades after those cutting comments to see that my discernment was clouded by love and a distorted, blind loyalty and trust.

The man was my father, for goodness’ sake!

In the second instance, perhaps a part of my dad thought he was acting in my best interest, warning me to be vigilant and protective of my sensitive, angsty soul and artist’s heart…

But in honoring the man he was, I don’t want to be irresponsible about holding him responsible for the moments he chose hurtful words and actions over silence or something more useful. For doing his version of The Stupid.

Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to doing more than my own share of The Stupid. I’ve left my own trail of hurt. Some I’ve been able to patch up responsibly, some not so much, others were simply beyond repair.

As I look at the wild range of fathers I’ve known, there isn’t one who stands out as a perfect saint. As I mentioned at the top of this piece, I’ve not met a single man who hasn’t, at some point on his fatherhood journey, done his own version of The Stupid – as if it’s a weird developmental rite of passage.

The more conscious and responsible amongst them have done their best to repair and grow their relationships post-hurt. Others have carried on in states of lonely righteousness, waiting for those they’ve injured to come around. It’s a long, long wait.

As for my dad, I’ve forgiven him. And as memories bubble to the surface, I’ll do it again, allowing the full range of emotions, letting myself be angry with him, and finding my way – over and over – to forgiveness.

Funny thing is, the more I recall of my father’s Stupid, the more love I can access – and the more I can truly honor his memory – as the whole, flawed, generous human being he was…

And because of all that, he’s still my hero.