Small Boys & Big Men

“Small boys become big men through the influence of big men who care about small boys.”

Every son looks to his dad for the example to which he wants to live by.  I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty amazing example to emulate and at times am perfectly acting out a carbon copy of my dad’s behaviors – whether I like it or not.

It seems with each day that passes I become more appreciative of my relationship with my dad, even though I didn’t always feel that way. My relationship with my dad has been the one that is the most rewarding but also the most challenging.  It has been one that has saved me and one that has infuriated me, but nonetheless has taught me about family and love.  At times, we are complete strangers, navigating how to get to know one another, yet simultaneously knowing what buttons to push and what jokes to tell. While my dad and I have had to work on our father-son relationship, I really mean it when I say I wouldn’t change ours for the world.

My dad is a pretty impressive fellow.  He isn’t overly emotional yet he has a charm and charisma that gives people life.  He is a chronic worrier, which at times is greeted by eyerolls from his three kids, but has given us the benefits of his unending sacrifices. He has such pride and admiration in us that has shown me who my biggest fan is (well, he is in a tie with mom). I would even go as far as to say he has more faith in us than we can even muster.  I think my dad thinks my brother, sister and I could save the world and it’s because of him that once in a while we think we can.  He is a man who is proud of where he came from and celebrates that in everything he does – his faith, his work and his family.  He has been my sounding board when work has been more than infuriating and has helped me think objectively talking me off many a ledge.  He is also a storyteller and is probably the person who has helped me fall in love with the art of telling stories even teaching me the ways of captivating others with a tale.

Growing up, my dad had the busy job of being a salesman, but even with hectic hours and the stress of the job he managed to be at every sporting event, play, campout, award ceremony and family dinner.  My dad was present everywhere I turned from the time I was a tiny tot through graduate school and it seems he doesn’t plan on quitting. My dad has shown up for me time and time again.  There was a time I was presenting a a paper I wrote on the metaphor of disease in American literature – a real tantalizing topic – my dad managed to show up and surprise me when I wasn’t expecting anyone to come.  He did the same when I presented my research thesis in graduate school. He was at every volleyball game in high school and every performance of whatever play or musical I was in, even if I was just a member of the chorus.  But then again there are no such thing as small roles only small actors (Is that how the saying goes?).  He has still managed to be there for me even when the moments aren’t as entertaining as a show can be or as exciting as a volleyball game, like helping me sort through the dilemmas of buying a new car to the potential of moving out of Buffalo.

My dad and I at my presentation of my graduate research thesis
My dad and I at my presentation of my graduate research thesis
My dad and I at my Master's Graduation at Canisius College
My dad and I at my Master’s Graduation at Canisius College

He’s always been there with his advice – however long-winded and repetitive it can be – and always drives his point home.

I’ve never really given my dad the credit he deserves in all the times he has shown up for all of his kids and the undying support he has given us. I tend to let his sometimes overbearing concern drive me up a wall, but it’s nice to know that I have a dad who cares that much to be concerned and worry.  But with this Father’s Day it has really been an eye-opener to see how blessed I am to have the dad I do.

Looking back, I’ve realized the most important lesson I’ve taken from my dad is that life isn’t always pretty.  It’s tough and is going to throw problems in your face whether you expect it or not. But in the end all you need is yourself – you are more than capable of making yourself happy and being your best asset. No one is going to live your life for you, you have to do it.

At the ripe age of 13 I learned that lesson quite painfully.  I had attended a camp for scouts that was one week long with kids I didn’t know. It was called JLT, or Junior Leader Training, and it seemed that right after my dad dropped me off, I instantly got homesick. When he came up to visit he talked me down from the tears I was crying and with plea after plea, my dad gave in and told me he would pick me up early so that I could be home sooner.  The day came that he promised to pick me up and my dad was a no show.  The only thing that had made me somewhat happy was knowing my dad was going to get me out of the campout that I had painted as hell on earth.  Now, he wasn’t showing and I knew my dad has left me to finish out the week by myself with no help, no familiar faces, no sense of comfort. The nerve of him, right?

Once I realized I was stuck there and I wasn’t getting out, I slowly but surely embraced the campout and the other scouts I’d kept at arms length.  I actually started having fun. I was even picked as the “permanent” patrol leader of my patrol. Yes, we were only there for a week, but we were to take the lessons we learned with us for the rest of our lives.  Little did I know then that the lessons I took from the camp were just tidbits compared to what my dad taught me.  By the end of the trip when I finally saw my dad again I wasn’t angry that he didn’t show because I knew he had to not show.  He needed me to understand that life isn’t going to let you take a break when the times get tough.  No, you have to buckle down and stay true to yourself.  It can come in all shapes and sizes but that one week is the foundation for the wonderful relationship I now have with my dad. I would define that week as a turning point in my life because I realized I was no longer a small boy, not quite yet a big man, but somewhere in between – on a journey to becoming the man I can be.  I think I’m still on that journey a decade later, but evermore closer to being that man I’ve always wanted to be – one that my dad would be proud of.

My Eagle Scout ceremony, I'm giving my mom a rose, and I'd say dad looks proud?
My Eagle Scout ceremony, I’m giving my mom a rose, and I’d say dad looks proud.

While that lesson was the foundation for my dad and I, he has given me many more lessons throughout my 24 years.  My dad has shown me the importance of tradition.  Every Holy Saturday my dad and I trek to the Clinton Bailey Farmer’s Market for Easter flowers.  It’s something we’ve done since I was a little kid and something I’ve grown to appreciate over the years.  It’s a special tradition for he and I and one that makes me feel like I’m stepping back in time and I’m seeing my dad as a kid with his father.

My dad and I at the Clinton Bailey Farmer's Market buying Easter flowers.
My dad and I at the Clinton Bailey Farmer’s Market buying Easter flowers.
My dad and I with Lottie of R&L Lounge - from a fish fry to Polish cuisine, she does it perfect!
My dad and I with Lottie of R&L Lounge – from a fish fry to Polish cuisine, she does it perfect!

He has shown me the importance of integrity and hard work.  For four years my dad and I worked together and during that time I watched as he always gave everything he had to his bosses, coworkers and customers.  He was never late, always worked his ass off, was fair and always cherished the people that crossed his path.  He’s done that beyond the boundaries of work and I’ve tried to follow suit.  It’s hard sometimes when you see people who do the wrong thing and get the great reward, but the fact that I couldn’t even be tempted to compromise myself or my work ethic shows my dad’s character has been engrained in me.  I know now it is just practice for the days of working toward my dream. When I can bust my ass for a job that’s merely paying my bills, I know that every job after this, every experience that I am greeted with to help make my dream a reality, I will give nothing less than 110 percent to.

My dad has given more than many sons ever get from their fathers.  I’ve gotten traditions that I look forward to every year. I’ve gotten lessons that have made me a better professional and a better person.  I’ve gotten support through hard times and a cheerleader through the successes.  But most of all I’ve gotten an example as to how to live a beautifully happy life, and I can’t think of anything better than that!

So thanks, dad.  I hope to one day be a big man, just like the big man you’ve been for me and will continue to be.


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