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SideLines: Becoming my father

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 10:38 a.m. CDT

The older I get, the more I’m becoming like my father.

It’s not a conscious thing. Without meaning to, I’ve started doing little things he used to do, using phrases he once used. I've also noticed that my attitude towards certain things is beginning to mirror his.

One day last summer, I had my head shaved, something my father often did. I was shocked to see how much I looked like him. It was almost eerie.

Several women have told me the worst thing in the world is to become like their mothers. Since I knew many of their mothers, I never quite understood why that was so terrible, but I never said anything. (Most of those women eventually did turn out just like their mothers, whether or not they wanted to.)

My father, who passed away four years ago, was a much better man than I’ll ever be. He was quiet, hard-working and loyal. He had his faults, just like the rest of us, most of which he kept to himself. He used to sit out in his garage for hours, all by himself, fiddling with little things. I often wondered what he thought about when he was alone like that, but he never offered to share, and I respected him enough not to ask.

With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, I’ve been thinking about my father a lot.

For some reason, Father’s Day doesn’t seem to get the same reverence as Mother’s Day. Maybe it's because of the way we treat it. It’s not like you can send your father a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates. Call your dad up and, instead of being grateful to simply hear your voice, he’ll invariably ask if anything’s wrong, or if you need anything, like work on your car or money.

Since he seldom wore them, it’s not like I could get him a tie. He also didn't play golf, so a new golf club was out. One year, though, the Bulls won the NBA championship on Father’s Day. My dad seemed pretty pleased with that. And some years my birthday has fallen on Father’s Day; although he never said anything, I supposed that might have meant something to him, too. With fathers, it's sometimes hard to tell.

The one thing I do know is that I’m not the only one who looks up to his father. Last year, I was doing an interview with Phil Jerbi, the athletic director at Genoa-Kingston High School. We started talking about fathers.

As a teenager, Phil's father was principal of the high school he attended in Gardner, Ill. Instead of being awkward, it actually had its perks. For instance, whenever Phil wanted to play basketball, rather than shooting a few hoops in the driveway, his father gave him the keys to the school so he could work out in the gym. Not every kid can do that.

“You talk about my father and then you look at my story, they are pretty similar,” he told me. They both went into education, both became officials, coaches and administrators. In fact, they even refereed the same game together, which had to be interesting.

Like Phil, his dad coached cross country and track. In fact, by the time Phil was in fourth grade, the two went for daily runs.

“I would run behind him while he set the pace,” Phil recalled.

He didn't say it, but that's the way it should be.

After stepping down as an educator, Phil's father, whom he refers to as “a retired Italian workaholic,” got bored and went to the police academy. You could hear the pride in his voice as he recounted how his father finished at the top of his class, and how he now works 12-hour shifts at the Grundy County jail in Morris. Despite that heavy workload, he still finds time to umpire and referee, as well as do a number of other things.

“I got a lot of traits from my father, which is a good thing, because there’s no one else in the world I could ever aspire to be,” Phil told me.

There’s an old saying that if you want to know what a young woman will look like when she gets older, check out her mother. In the same way, I think if you want to know how a young man is going to turn out, as a person, you could probably check out his father.

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