Saturday, June 21, 2014

Like Father, Like Son

Final Fantasy 7 has been a great source of reflection for me. I'm not a fan of nostalgia--if I'm replaying something these days, it's because I'm hoping to experience something new and to come to new realizations. FF7 has been doing that admirably.

Recently I has a conversation with Aeris in which she wonders idly what an Ancient is "supposed to be like." It was a basic nature versus nurture problem: how much of who we are is due to how we were raised, and how much is due to our genetics? Which led me to thinking about my dad and I.

When I was young I didn't see my dad much. He was a shrimp boat captain, out in the gulf for weeks at a time. My earliest memories with him are of him teaching me to hunt and fish, dragging me to church against my will, communication via two-way radio, and him reading me NES instruction manuals.

I never took to hunting or fishing any more than he took to video games. In short, we didn't share our most superficial interests. I stopped going to church as soon as he stopped dragging me (though I maintain that I'm still "mostly christian").

The two-way radio was something my mom mostly did to check up on my dad while he was offshore. Even when she wasn't talking to my dad, the radio would still be on in case he needed to get in touch with us. As a result, I grew up hearing the static-distorted voices of fishermen coming from our utility room at all hours. My family adopted cell phones fairly early, eager to get rid of that radio.

Despite my dad's disinterest in video games, he would read any instruction manual I'd bring to him, sometimes several times in a row. My favorite was the Super Mario Bros. 3 manual.

Anyway, all that to say that, despite my fairly vivid memories of my dad, I've always thought I spent too little time with him to have picked up as much from him as I have: we share a sense of humor, which mostly relies on getting a rise out of people, particularly loved ones. We're both very quiet and focused much of the time, but the right people or situation can make it hard to shut us up. We're both unlikely to panic, slow to anger, and bound to find humor in bad situations. We even have similar facial expressions.

Even my mom finds it a bit uncanny.

I can't help but wonder how much of that is genetic and how much of that is learned. I can accept that I may have a genetic predisposition to calmness, but everything else is a bit suspect.

The thing is, I'm similar to how my dad is now.  However, when he was my age he was a very different person. When he married my mom at the age of 25, he was a pretty wild guy: partying, drinking, getting into trouble, having children with random women--I had three half-siblings born before my dad married my mom. He apparently calmed down considerably after both getting married and having children with his wife, and not a moment before.

So, I suspect I must have learned things subconsciously, watching him carefully during those few times he was around to be a role model for me. I never learned what he tried to teach me directly, but I guess I learned everything else.

Nowadays he calls me every few weeks to talk, though the conversation is pretty much always the same: we ask each other about work, what else we're doing, any traveling, etc. I always feel like there's more to say, but neither of us know how to say it.

A final note: I happen to know that my dad is heavily affected by the song "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin, and I can see why. There are many parallels between us and that song, and I think it scares him a bit. It kinda scares me, too. We're too busy to ever really see each other, and it makes us sad.

I miss my dad.

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