Growing up, I was always told that I took after my dad.  When I was little, my mom would take my hair and pull it across my face in place of his mustache and beard, and say I looked just like him.  I was also told from a young age that I would be “looking Dad in the eye” when I grew up, meaning that I should expect to be at least 6 feet tall to match up to his 6’2″ frame.  This was a quote from my pediatrician, based on the rough estimate of doubling a toddler’s height.  I was also frequently told that I thought like my dad, a very logical man who has been a computer programmer for the past 30 years.  I remember a middle school birthday of mine that centered around a scavenger hunt, only instead of a straight list of objects to find, each object was presented as a clue that had to be decoded.  We split into two teams, and my team smoked the other one, principally because I was best equipped to understand my dad’s clues.  One of them was something like “a dapper flower,” and I was the only one who knew he meant a dandilion.

As I got older, I realized that I wasn’t exactly like my dad, which was disturbing at times.  When a school nurse told me at age 13 or so that I wouldn’t grow past 5’8″, I was crushed.  I managed to squeak out another 2 inches — Dad had had a late growth spurt, too — but I topped out 2 inches shorter than the 6 foot I had always been told to expect.  While he has a PhD in applied mathematics, I struggled through trigonometry in high school and nearly failed pre-calculus.  And when we go to family reunions, all of my mom’s cousins immediately exclaim that I look exactly like her, not like my dad.  But we both have heads that hold on to unusual facts; we both love telling anecdotes, and half of his stories are now in my repertoire; we both like reading science fiction; and we both like to flex our vocabulary muscles from time to time.

As an intellectual computer programmer, it’s hard to find Father’s Day cards for my dad.  He doesn’t play golf; he’s not really into cars; he’s not a big beer drinker; he doesn’t fish; and he’s good at basic woodworking, but I wouldn’t consider him the handyman type.  So I tend to go for the dad card with the puns — that’s him, the guy who loves to use a clever choice of words to make you groan.  In fact, when I called and wished him a happy Father’s Day this morning, he thanked me for the card I picked this year, and said he understood his “pun-ishment.”

But something unexpected came from that call.  I mentioned what I said above — the fact that he doesn’t have many of the stereotypical interests that are found on Father’s Day cards.  And he said he had recently been talking to a coworker about watching a sports game, and the coworker mentioned he was going to go watch it with his dad.  My dad went on to say that my grandfather had never been into sports — possibly because he had been orphaned at a young age, and always had to work.  As a result, my dad’s mild interest in sports didn’t come from my grandfather — he had picked that up elsewhere.  And the fishing trips that he had gone on with his dad and brothers weren’t something that he had passed down to my sister and I.

I guess we don’t always bring the traits of our parents with us as we grow up.  Maybe I won’t play mah-jong, or bocce ball, or mini-golf with my kids.  Maybe they won’t have my crafty side, or my love of images, or my curiosity about other cultures.  But that will be okay, because I don’t expect my kids to be a carbon copy of me — any more than my dad expected me to be a carbon-copy of him, no matter how much I take after him.

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