Anthony’s dad, and Anthony the dad.
While Anthony takes a break this week, enjoy this vintage From the Edge column from 2006.
I called my father “Pete.” His name was John Peyton Porter, but everybody called him Pete. I’m an only child—it’s a chronic condition, like having children—and since I never heard anybody call him anything but Pete, I called him Pete, too. That’s my theory. My mother tried to get me to call him “Daddy,” but I wasn’t having any.
When I was little, Pete worked for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway as a redcap, schlepping baggage for passengers. He made good tips, and when he worked on Sunday after we got a car, my mother and I would drive downtown to the Northwestern station to get him. He’d buy me a Green River pop at the saloon next door, and we’d all go home to dinner.
For much of my childhood, Pete took me fishing on summer Saturdays. We didn’t go far, just out to Saganashkee Slough or Maple Lake, where we could be together and not talk. At home, my mother seemed to talk all the time. I don’t suppose she did really. He took me to racetracks and card games and never to church, so we got along fine.
At home, Pete was a second-class citizen, little-appreciated and ill-treated by my mother and much too fond of Gordon’s gin to defend himself against the likes of her. He was a nice guy and a lousy role model.
I wonder how I’ll fail my sons. I think I’m bound to, and I don’t think the specifics are predictable, so I don’t sweat it. Good luck to them. I mean well.
I spent a lot of years resenting my father. I wanted him to run interference between me and my mother. I used to want him to hit her, but he didn’t.
Then I acquired a wife and children, and he started to seem like a hero for not decking her. My perceptions are growing up.
I don’t know what makes a parent harangue a child or bring up their children’s gaffes in front of other people, as though a little more humiliation will teach the little buggers what experience couldn’t. And I don’t know why a parent thinks just one more nag or backhand will make the crucial difference and tip little Emma over into eager obedience and a flawless memory.
What I do know is that some things run in families, and what runs in mine is up to me. What runs in yours is up to you. The hard part is something Albert Schweitzer said: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Just our luck.