Through the years, I have struggled with the role of my fatherhood and, in general, on the importance of fathers in child development and human relationships. No man is prepared for being a father, and the dynamic process of life itself makes fatherhood difficult and unpredictable.
Intuitively, we know that fathers provide a model for how their children will develop as men or how women will relate to men and their expectations of men in relationships. The absence of a father or a male has an impact we know on child development, though to quantify that importance is difficult to assess exactly and varies from case to case. I can only speak of my personal experiences as a son and father to base my opinions.
My father never sat me down and philosophized about what was important in life and what was not. He was formed by his experiences as a son and often times was preoccupied, unavailable and disinterested. My childhood memories of my father's presence are wispy recollections and, honestly, there aren't any significant events, either good or bad, to hang my personality attributes or disorders.
There's an overall perception of love and acceptance, albeit on my dad's terms. I was OK with that since it was all I ever knew and certainly wasn't damaged by the experience. My later experiences with my father are far more vivid and richer. We labored together in our family business for nearly 40 years — and often times they were contentious, strife-filled and, in many cases, humorous as a television sitcom.
Those individual memories flood back as Father's Day approaches, and as time moves on, nearly all have become good and, in some cases, treasured recollections. We often thought about a television script called “Takin' Care of Business,” with my eccentric and painfully brash father as the centerpiece of the show.
One episode, for example, would have been the time my dad was meeting with a supplier's salesman, who refused to respect my father's personal space. He was within inches of my dad's face and whenever my dad would try to move to escape the interloper, the guy would reposition himself too close for Henry's comfort. To make matters worse, the man was a cigar smoker who had just eaten a spicy lunch to attack my poor father's senses.
This was going on for 5 minutes or so, and finally my dad uttered what has become a legend at out business, “Holy (expletive) ... my God ... your breath stinks! Give me some room!” My wife and I were witnesses to this and simply melted in embarrassment for the poor agent, who in some sense deserved what he got but probably was never the same again. The memories of my dad just breeze through my mind.
Sometimes, a customer would visit our store and my father was totally silent and unaffected by their presence until they were set to leave. Then and only then he would engage them in conversation about any topic business or non-business and make our customer's exit nearly impossible.
Customers would be lined up as my dad created a log jam for the coming and going through our small store. He worked — more accurately reported to work, almost to the very end — and when weather permitted, he would sit in one of those aluminum framed chairs with the braided nylon strips. He positioned it under the portico of our expanded store and showroom. He would doze off and was completely unaware of who was coming into the store, unless, however, it was an attractive female and then he would awaken miraculously to greet her and, as above, engage her in a departing conversation.
Don't ask me how that was possible. The question emerges, did our clients object to my dad? If they did, we never heard one complaint or negative remark — not one. I guess, maybe, that was the cost or “charm” of doing business with a small family enterprise and, thankfully, our customers accepted it.
Now, I guess, I have inherited the “eccentric, senior” role and am sure I can cause a stir of embarrassment and discomfort for my daughter and our associates. If so, please accept my apologies and hopefully be able to say someday, as I have often said, “Oh God, I miss my dad!”
Gary DeSantis is a Meadville resident and author of a book titled “The 6th Floor.”